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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.

Mayor Apologizes, Council Pledges to Work on Meeting Protocol Mayor Apologizes, Council Pledges to Work on Meeting Protocol Mayor Apologizes, Council Pledges to Work on Meeting Protocol

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.

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