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Mayor Apologizes, Council Pledges to Work on Meeting Protocol

Ridgewood governing body members said they'll work on protocol to ensure all council members are kept abreast of meetings individual officials conduct.

The bubbling tension that exploded at a Jan. 30 Ridgewood council meeting has led to an apology from Mayor Paul Aronsohn, who pledged to find common ground and develop protocols on meetings individual council members have.

"It wasn't a great meeting," Aronsohn conceded last Wednesday night. "I want to apologize to my colleagues, and most importantly, I want to apologize to the public because frankly, you deserve better."

He said the council will work through issues with civility and respect.

The Jan. 30 meeting began with Councilwoman Bernadette Walsh asking what the protocol was for council members conducting meetings without informing colleagues.

The specific meetings – one regarding a ramp at Graydon, the other with developers of the Ken Smith property – were attended by multiple council members and staff. Though they were legal, Walsh and Councilman Tom Riche said they did not know they had been conducted.

The discussion on Jan. 30 led to accusations over secret meetings with development interests, attorneys being paid for the benefit of few, and charges of ticket fixing.

The meeting was "a fiasco," according to resident Lorraine Reynolds, who said Deputy Mayor Albert Pucciarelli's conduct was "disgraceful" and "dispicable." She pledged support for Councilwoman Bernadette Walsh, noting her question as to protocol remained unanswered. 

Councilwoman Gwenn Hauck said Reynolds had been asking "loaded questions" and said the implication shady dealings were happening was "hurtful."

Reynolds last Wednesday night pressed the governing body to disclose to the public all meetings they've had with developers since joining the council. All of them had meetings in the past.

Aronsohn and Pucciarelli each claimed they had met with the developers of the Ken Smith project (known as "Ridgewood Station") three times. Hauck also said she met with the developers.

They weren't the only ones. Riche said he met with John Saraceno on the Sealfons property several years ago for a conceptual draft. Former Mayor Keith Killion and Councilwoman Bernadette Walsh also met with Saraceno. (They referred him to the planning board; it's a standard recommendation, Riche said.)

Here's where it gets dicey again.

Aronsohn says he was never made aware of the meetings the trio had with Saraceno, nor was he invited. The mayor and Pucciarelli have been accused of keeping Walsh and Riche in the dark over meetings with Terminal Construction. Killion, speaking at Village Hall for the first time since his failed election bid, said Aronsohn was made aware but had scheduling problems and could not meet.

For Killion, the break in communication among the council arouses suspicion among the public. It needs to be addressed, he said.

"Where the problem comes in here is that when information is not shared, people think something is going wrong," Killion said. "All five of you, no matter what you think of each other or your political background, you still have to talk." 

While the meetings were not illegal, information was not shared, he said.

Procedures on openness should be spelled out, according to Village Attorney Matt Rogers.

"There may be a need to establish a protocol to set up some guidelines or some process to deal with this within our council so that going forward we can work these things out in a more conducive way."

Residents offered their own suggestions. 

Michael Sedon had a simple solution – if governing body members have meetings, they should shoot colleagues an e-mail summarizing what took place. Another recommended the public be given a summary at the council meeting following the pow-wow.

Pucciarelli expressed support for drafting a document spelling out the protocol of meetings council members have. It's not clear when the council will have a new policy spelled out, though they all agreed it's needed in Ridgewood.

Andrew J February 13, 2013 at 07:30 PM
Instead of reading a summary of meetings with these real estate developers, I think it would be interesting to watch a recording of the meetings or at least read a transcript so we know what ACTUALLY takes place and gets promised and discussed. There are obvious transparency and public trust issues going on and residents have a right to know what deals, if any, are being proposed and made, especially when there's such a potential impact to our town.
AMAMOM February 13, 2013 at 07:50 PM
I am still waiting for Pucciarelli to apologize. Arhonsohn didn't do his job as mayor - control the meeting BUT Pucciarelli was rude, argumentative and defensive. Not the man we voted for, or maybe we finally saw who he really is. I wouldn't be suprised if the threesome breaks up over that meeting. Pucciarelli showed no respect for Walsh or Arhonsohn and certainly for the residents of Ridgewood. I would suggest more listening in the future and less jabs and snide remarks - it only reflects on the speaker. Walsh was businesslike and cordial - never made it personal. I commend her for her grace under fire. Bravo Ms. Walsh.
Boyd A. Loving February 13, 2013 at 08:12 PM
The two (2) photos used to illustrate this article speak directly to the issue at hand. Photo 1 - Hauck, Aronsohn, and Pucciarelli (the majority) Photo 2 - Walsh and Riche (the minority) No photo exists of all five (5) Village Council members standing together smiling?
James Kleimann February 13, 2013 at 08:18 PM
I was looking for one, Boyd. Just found and uploaded a photo, although the council members are not smiling.
Boyd A. Loving February 13, 2013 at 08:30 PM
I rest my case.
Bob Royal February 13, 2013 at 08:59 PM
Notice how not one of them actually apologized directly to Councilwoman Walsh for their behavior towards her. That makes it very clear to me that the three amigos are not interested in working together with Walsh and Riche. Nothing is going to change.
Phil Brooks February 13, 2013 at 10:05 PM
I'm not a Ridgewood resident, so I have no dog in this fight. How it appears to me is that at least some members of the Ridgewood council have forgotten that, not only do they represent Ridgewood residents but that they ARE residents as well. They think they're up here somewhere (holding hand up above head) and everyone else is down there. That is shameless arrogance, plain and simple. As far as transparency, it appears that everyone on the council is very transparent already--as in you can see right through them. For some, apparently good is seen while, for others, it's that shameless arrogance. Will some nice person please explain to me how "transparency" became a synonym for "honesty" in the same way that "gaming" became a synonym for "gambling?"
Bob Royal February 13, 2013 at 10:58 PM
The dictionary is meaningless today. That's why they can "ask" the wealthy to pay more when they mean "force" the wealthy to pay more. That's why government spending is now called "investment" and "tax cuts" are called government spending.
James Bombace February 14, 2013 at 03:05 AM
Boyd, Maybe I am missing something, but were you concerned with the unity of the council before this current council? I don't remember you expressing that concern in the past. And why is that so imporant to you? I would never want a council to just agree on a matter without having a serious discussion that would examine each and every positive or negative aspect of their decision and more importantly the possible unintended consequences. I don't expect every decision to be supported 100% by every council person. I just don't believe that is reasonable.

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