Hello, fellow residents of Woodlynne.
It is with a heavy heart that I have to inform you that once again your local government is up to no good, putting themselves above the law for the sake of allowing one corrupt man to illegally profit off of our town. Please, give me a few minutes of your time, and I will do my best to explain to you exactly what they’re doing, hopefully, so that *you* don’t let them get away with it.
As many of you are aware, 2019 marked the last year of Jeraldo Fuentes’s term as “Mayor with Administrative responsibilities”, and the end of that position altogether. With the election of a new Mayor, the Council was *required* to start looking for a new administrator. They have known that this was going to happen since Fuentes announced that he wasn’t running for re-election. We are now into January of 2020, and we still do not have an administrator, and according to the last Council Meeting, they have no idea when they will get one.
Now, a lot of us have been prepared for an attempt to make him the administrator, in spite of lack of qualifications, but Fuentes (along with Mayor Chukwueke and Council President Earley) threw us a curveball by instead making a motion to appoint him as the Borough Clerk (along with three other Clerk positions) with a combined salary of $75,000 yearly. For those that didn’t already know, Woodlynne’s Clerk resigned mid-2019, with Cheryl stepping in as acting Clerk for the remainder of *her* last year with the Borough. This means that the Council were well aware of the need to fill this position at least half of the year (though this is actually longer, given that he submitted his resignation much earlier in the year).
Now, let’s take a look at what the State has to say about this position, with emphasis on the parts pertaining to what’s going on here (40A:9-133 – Municipal clerk, appointment, duties – https://law.justia.com/codes/new-jersey/2013/title-40a/section-40a-9-133/):
40A:9-133. Municipal clerk, appointment, duties
40A:9-133. a. In every municipality there shall be a municipal clerk appointed for a three-year term by the governing body of the municipality. Commencing January 1 following the third anniversary of the effective date of P.L.1997, c.279 (C.40A:9-133.9 et al.), no person shall be appointed or reappointed as a municipal clerk unless that person holds a registered municipal clerk certificate issued pursuant to section 3 or section 4 of P.L.1985, c.174 (C.40A:9-133.3 or C.40A:9-133.4).
b.For the purposes of tenure, the term of a municipal clerk shall be deemed to have begun as of the actual date upon which a person serving as municipal clerk is appointed. In the event of a vacancy in the office of municipal clerk, an appointment shall be made for a new term and not for the unexpired term. A reappointment of an incumbent municipal clerk made within 60 days following the expiration of the prior term shall not be considered to be a new appointment and the effective date of the reappointment shall date back to the date of expiration of the initial term of appointment.
c.Within 90 days of the occurrence of a vacancy in the office of municipal clerk by reason of the departure of a registered municipal clerk, the governing body may appoint a person who does not hold a registered municipal clerk certificate to serve as acting municipal clerk for a period not to exceed one year and commencing on the date of the vacancy. Any person so appointed may, with the approval of the Director of the Division of Local Government Services in the Department of Community Affairs, be reappointed as acting municipal clerk for a maximum of two subsequent one-year terms following the termination of the temporary appointment. No local unit shall fill the position of acting municipal clerk for more than three consecutive years. Time served as acting municipal clerk may be credited toward the experience authorized as a substitute for the college education requirement pursuant to section 2 of P.L.1985, c.174 (C.40A:9-133.2). Time served as acting municipal clerk may not be credited as time served as municipal clerk for the purpose of acquiring tenure pursuant to section 7 of P.L.1985, c.174 (C.40A:9-133.7).
d.(Deleted by amendment, P.L.1997,c.279).
e.The municipal clerk shall:
(1) act as secretary of the municipal corporation and custodian of the municipal seal and of all minutes, books, deeds, bonds, contracts, and archival records of the municipal corporation. The governing body may, however, provide by ordinance that any other specific officer shall have custody of any specific other class of record;
(2) act as secretary to the governing body, prepare meeting agendas at the discretion of the governing body, be present at all meetings of the governing body, keep a journal of the proceedings of every meeting, retain the original copies of all ordinances and resolutions, and record the minutes of every meeting;
(3) serve as the chief administrative officer in all elections held in the municipality, subject to the requirements of Title 19 of the Revised Statutes;
(4) serve as chief registrar of voters in the municipality, subject to the requirements of Title 19 of the Revised Statues;
(5) serve as the administrative officer responsible for the acceptance of applications for licenses and permits and the issuance of licenses and permits, except where statute or municipal ordinance has delegated that responsibility to some other municipal officer;
(6) serve as coordinator and records manager responsible for implementing local archives and records retention programs as mandated pursuant to Title 47 of the Revised Statutes;
(7) perform such other duties as are now or hereafter imposed by statute, regulation or by municipal ordinance or regulation.
f.If a governing body fails or refuses to comply with subsection a., b. or c. of this section, the director may order the governing body to comply by a date certain which shall afford the governing body a reasonable time within which to comply.
L.1971, c.200, s.1; amended 1980, c.147, s.5;1981, c.394, s.2; 1991, c.73, s.1; 1997, c.279, s.1.
There are a couple of key points here that I need to share with you. In fact, the very first paragraph states the following: “no person shall be appointed or reappointed as a municipal clerk unless that person holds a registered municipal clerk certificate issued pursuant to section 3 or section 4 of P.L.1985, c.174 (C.40A:9-133.3 or C.40A:9-133.4).” This means that the certification requirement *is* a requirement. That said, paragraph (c) does indicate that the governing body may appoint a person who does not hold the certification to serve as acting municipal clerk for a single year. Subsequent appointments for said person requires the direct approval of the Director of Local Government Services in the Department of Community Affairs. What this does *not* say, is that someone may be appointed to the position without the certification, only that someone may act as the Clerk.
Now that you understand the law as it pertains to this appointment, let me show you how our local government is violating the law. I have gone back over the last meeting with a fine-toothed comb, and have written up some transcriptions (included timestamps are for our videos and are not intended as reference points into the official tapes, should any exist).
13:51 – beginning talks of appointment
14:51 – Fuentes: “After numerous talking to the incoming Mayor, Joseph Chukwueke, and the Council President… discussion of a few things, we’re gonna decide to hold back on the administration at this point due to the fact that I am here and committed and I’m not here to play any political game, because as my appointment comes [missed word], it is a permanent position, not an appointment position, because like I say, I have been committed to do the work of this town where the people have made their decision and we continue to move forward for the betterment of the people of this community.”
16:15 – Fuentes claims to have all of the educational background
16:21 – Fuentes: “I’m not the person on trial
Fuentes claims that appointment of Municipal clerk is not a personnel issue
16:56 – Cook: “…and I asked you if you had the qualifications…”
Fuentes: “… and I said yes…”
16:58 – Cook: “Can you give that documentation?”
Fuentes: “Let me explain something to you… after the appointment we can discuss this.”
17:23 – Cook: “Where’s your resume?”
Fuentes: “Next. I don’t have to have my resume.”
18:00 – Fuentes calls for motion for full vote:
Fuentes: mumbled “Yes” (asked to repeat himself by Cook, and respond affirmatively again)
Feliciano: Yes (followed by childish “you hear that?” to Cook)
22:38 – Fuentes indicates that his new salary would be $75,000/year
22:56 – Goodwin: “Do you have a certification as a Registered Municipal Clerk?”
Fuentes: “You don’t need one-“
Goodwin: “That’s baloney-“
Fuentes: “You don’t need a certified for Municipal Clerk. You can have two years exception from the State.”
24:10 – Goodwin: “Well I wanna know when the Administrator position is going to be filled.”
Fuentes: “I don’t know yet. Maybe I’ll do that as volunteer.”
24:31 – Fuentes: “If you continue your remarks, I’m going to ask you to leave.”
24:41 – Goodwin: “Let’s take a step back-“
Fuentes: “No. Ask your question.”
Goodwin: “Where was the Municipal Clerk’s job advertised?”
Fuentes: “Motion to adjourn. Can I get a motion to adjourn?” (looking straight at Earley)
Fuentes: “Second?” (looking straight at Chukwueke)
Jankowski: “Hey, I wanna speak.”
Goodwin: “Mayor Chukwueke-“
Cook: “You’re shutting off a resident.”
Fuentes: “No, because he’s out of control.”
Goodwin: “No no, I wanna know where the [missed word] for Clerk was advertised.”
Cook: “Too much [missed word].”
Fuentes: “Excuse me. Municipal Clerk? Been advertised. Thank you.”
Goodwin: “Where was it advertised?”
Fuentes: “I sent it to the Courier Post and the Retrospect. Ok?”
Cook: “Ah, no, that was not.”
Fuentes: “Sir, I sent it out there. Don’t tell me it wasn’t.”
27:10 – Cook: “I have a question. Please do not shut me down. Let me ask my question. The Mayor stated that the advertisement for the Borough Clerk position was listed in the Courier Post and in the Retrospect. That came, and it’s also on the recording.”
Cook: “The only thing that’s listed here is ‘Borough Engineer, Planning Board Engineer, Planning Board Attorney, Municipal Attorney- Please give me the date that you had this inside listed into the paper.”
Fuentes: “I submitted this last week to the paper.”
Cook: “Last week?”
Cook: “Given the timeframe for how many people to apply?”
Fuentes: “Excuse me. I already gave you your answer.
At this point the meeting devolves into Fuentes demanding a motion to adjourn (while other people are speaking) until he gets one from Chukwueke and Earley.
From this, we learn the following:
1) The old Mayor, the new Mayor, and the Council President decided “we’re gonna decide to hold back on the administration at this point due to the fact that I am here and committed and I’m not here to play any political game”. So this means, no administrator, with Fuentes threatening to volunteer his services.
2) Either Fuentes doesn’t understand what qualifications are necessary for this position, or he’s lying through his teeth. He’s on the record stating a few times that he meets the qualifications and educational background to be the Clerk, in spite of his lacking certification, and clearly being aware that he lacks the certification. He goes on to state that “You don’t need a certified for Municipal Clerk. You can have two years exception from the State.” As you have seen above, this simply isn’t true.
Best case: Fuentes didn’t understand the requirements – shows lack of comprehension of legal documents, and as such *should* preclude him from a position where that ability is necessary.
Worst case: Fuentes knows all of this, and is relying on the public’s ignorance to hide the fact that he’s lying.
3) Our Council and new Mayor apparently think that there’s no problem with voting on matters without all of the facts. Any attempts to get information were met with hostility, or Fuentes pushing the vote anyway.
4) Our Council (and former Mayor) lack ethics. The record shows that Councilman Pablo Fuentes not only voted on this appointment, but he voted in favor of it. Ethically, he should never have been allowed to vote, and the fact that only *one* member of Council has stated that this isn’t alright, it serves as evidence that the remaining members lack ethics, and as such cannot be trusted.
5) Fuentes *himself* submitted the listings to the Courier Post and the Retrospect for a position that he was applying for, and he submitted them a week prior to the vote. Even assuming that both papers got the listing out that week, that still left *less than six days* for any qualified applicants to see the notice and apply. As of the time of this writing, residents that I have spoken with have gone through back issues of the Retrospect and have not located any announcement for this job listing.
6) Council lacks a clear understanding that a potential exception is not the same thing as a green light to ignore competence (or in this case, the lack thereof). I, personally, would not want to let my kids swim in a pool where the lifeguards are lacking the proper certifications, regardless of any exceptions that may exist. Certifications exist for a reason. Ignoring them, especially when the State *requires* it for the position, is both foolish *and* illegal.
7) Council President Earley and former Mayor Fuentes are guilty of attempting to violate the law. At several points, Fuentes threatens to have members of the public removed for making remarks, and tried calling for motions to adjourn while the public was speaking. Council President Earley jumped right on board with that when he looked to her for the motion. The Open Public Meetings Act protects the rights of private citizens in that it allows us the opportunity to speak at *all* public meetings. Further, the governing body is *not* allowed to censor anyone because they don’t agree or don’t like what’s being said. Further, they are *not* allowed to prohibit anyone from speaking about *any* subject matter so long as *any* member of the public feels that it’s an issue that may be of concern to the residents of the municipality. Not only are Fuentes’s threats inaccurate, but they are also illegal, and punishable by law. In fact, given that this appointment was made the way that it was, a call to the Superior Court of New Jersey may be enough by itself to void this illegal and unethical action.
As I have stated, I have already filed a report with the State Attorney General’s office, but I also implore each and every one of you to please come out to the Reorganization meeting next week, and let your voices be heard. Do not allow the governing body to cheat its way into continuing to allow unqualified and unethical people to run our Borough.