Charges Mayor with dictatorship

HIGHLANDS - Charging the majority of the governing body have signed their voting rights away and created a dictatorship in the borough, former Councilwoman Claudette D’Arrigo minced no words in conversations with The Monmouth Journal in criticizing the recently adopted ordinance which enables the mayor alone to hire and fire a newly created position as confidential aide to the mayor and administrator. When contacted for comment, Mayor Broullon made no comments in response to D’Arrigo’s accusations about dictatorship, but did comment on other allegations the former councilwoman cited. D’Arrigo said, “It is unbelievable that council members can be that ignorant of what they have done” and called it shameful that “a dictator mayor now rules.” She also predicted that since the three council members, whom she identified as the three elected to their first terms on the governing body in November, approved this ordinance, it will not be long before they also sign away the administrator’s responsibility to answer to the full governing body, instead to enable him to answer to the mayor alone. The ordinance, one of seven which were introduced by the governing body at their organizational meeting in January, calls for a confidential aide to the mayor and administrator to be hired and or fired by the mayor alone, to have the duties dictated by the mayor alone, and to have the terms of hiring be at the mayor’s direction, with no action or opinions from the remaining four members of council. The ordinance passed on its final reading in March, with councilmembers Donald Melnyk, Jo-Anne Olszewski and Kevin Martin and voting in favor of it, along with Mayor Carolyn Broullon and only councilwoman opposed. D’Arrigo said “It is up to Highlands voters whether they want this mayor’s ‘dictatorship’ to continue” noting there are two council seats up for election in November, and voters “hopefully for the sake of Highlands can reverse the poor decision of the three members who don’t understand bipartisanship in a non-partisan town.” In support of her opinions, D’Arrigo cited four primary problems borough residents now face because of the current situation and actions of the governing body. The fact the confidential aide ordinance was introduced at the organization meeting was in itself highly unusual, she said, since “rarely if ever is a majority council of new members called up to change or institute new town laws at their very first meeting.” The new position also means, according to the former councilwoman, that the individual hired and vetted solely by the mayor would not be bound by OPRA laws and would be permitted to discuss town issues only with the mayor, with the public, nor the rest of council, having any access to knowledge of those municipal matter discussions. The Mayor disagreed, but noted the position has not yet been filled, saying “We have not found a candidate for the Assistant position yet. The first meeting of the year was four months ago, the position has been approved by ordinance. Both the Administrator and four members of the Council wanted the position.” D’Arrigo also is critical of the mayor’s decision to continue virtual meetings even when space is available and 100 persons can attend under current Covid guidelines. She cited 17 years of past history when she said she never once saw that many people attend any council meeting. The matter is worse, she continued, since “other public gatherings of more than 100 people are permitted, adding, “this shows the voting public and residents exactly what the mayor thinks of their opinions.” Coupling that with muting of some speakers at public meetings to the announced three minute limit of all public input at council meetings, D’Arrigo said the mayor allows “her friends and nonresidents who favorably follow her personal agendas to speak for ten minutes or longer.” To this, Mayor Broullon said “the clerk times everyone and tells them when their time is up.” D’Arrigo also pointed out that because of the ban on public attending council meetings, the three new council members “have yet to meet the public in person at a council meeting.” Yet, she said, “they regularly meet residents at bars, restaurants or in a park at events . Why is that?” In her comments, Mayor Broullon made it clear she is continuing the present policy of conducting all municipal council meetings virtually. “The maximum number of persons allowed at an indoor gathering as per the Governor's Executive Order is 25 and we all have to be six feet apart. There are five members on Council then with the Clerk and the rest of the professionals, that is another five. That means only 15 other people would be able to come to the meeting. I am uncomfortable to turn anyone away so we will remain remote until indoor requirements are changed by the Governor.” “The residents of this town deserve to be heard in person and not be treated like six year olds,” D’ Arrigo said. “Highlands deserves a better than the hidden agendas of this council of one dictator.”


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