By JOHN T. WARD
The civil war among Red Bank Democrats shifted to the courts Wednesday, as two local party committee members announced they sued to have newly-sworn council member Angela Mirandi removed from office.
News of the lawsuit broke just hours before Mirandi was expected to attend her first council session as a member.
In their complaint, dated Tuesday, Horgan, a four-term council member, and Okeson, a member of the Charter Study Commission who also serves as the Democratic party’s secretary, demand that Mirandi be removed from the council by court order.
They also contend the seat, vacant since the January 19 resignation of Erik Yngstrom, should remain empty until filled by voters in November.
Horgan and Okeson allege that Zipprich, as party head, submitted the names of three possible successors, including Mirandi, when in fact the municipal party’s committee “never held a meeting with all of its members invited to review candidates or select the subject three names,” as required by law.
Though Council President Kate Triggiano is not a party to the suit, it alleges she also was excluded from the deliberative process.
“Zipprich and his allies engaged in a process to select the three subject names to the exclusion of Horgan, Okeson, Triggiano, and potentially other individuals that are not politically aligned with Zipprich,” the suit claims.
Zipprich did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Nor did Mirandi.
Here’s the court filing: Horgan & Okeson v Red Bank Dems complaint 022222
Zipprich cited local party bylaws at the February 9 council meeting when he proffered Mirandi, Stephen Hecht and John Jackson as potential successors to Yngstrom.
When Horgan protested that she had not been included as a party committeewoman in the nomination process, Zipprich said he also had not been involved in the selection, which he said he delegated to a “search and vetting committee” led by former mayor and his predecessor as party chair, Ed McKenna.
Zipprich added later that he had formed the committee “so that nobody could say that I am controlling who or what is being instituted in this replacement.” He said he had been out of the country when the vetting occurred.
Citing Okeson’s knowledge as secretary, the lawsuit contends however that the local party “does not maintain any bylaws whatsoever – let alone bylaws that would allow for a process in selecting candidates to the exclusion of the RBDMC’s elected members.”
In addition, McKenna, “is not even an elected member” of the municipal committee, the suit claims.
“It is time we follow the rules in Red Bank,” Horgan said in a press release announcing the legal action. “It is improper for the citizens of Red Bank to have an unelected appointee on the Borough Council that was not nominated as part of a proper process before the Democratic municipal committee. As an elected representative, I will stand up to protect the sanctity of the vacancy process, and any actions that were taken preventing me or others from fulfilling our legal duties were negligent on the Chairman’s part.”
The suit names the borough and the local Democratic committee as defendants, along with Zipprich.
In a memorandum attached to the suit, attorney Thaddeus R. Maciag argues that “the interests of justice favor removal of Mirandi because her continued presence will call into question the validity of all upcoming governing body actions, including but not limited to the adoption of a budget and bond ordinances.”
Moreover, he contended the appointment was an “entirely discretionary action, not one that was required to be taken,” under court precedent, and the council seat “can rightfully be left vacant until it can be acted upon by voters.”
A corporate accountant and West Lake Road resident, Mirandi was an unseen but often heard commenter on Zoom-hosted council meetings since early in the COVID-19 pandemic. She was sworn into office outside borough hall February 11 to serve through the remainder of 2022.
At Wednesday’s regular council session, she was expected to be appointed to chair the influential finance committee, as Yngstrom was to have done this year, according to the agenda.
In their press release, Okeson and Horgan referred to Mirandi as a “recently registered Democrat.” Okeson did not respond to a redbankgreen email seeking clarification.[UPDATE: Okeson told redbankgreen following publication of this article that voter records obtained via an Open Public Records Act request showed that Mirandi “was not a registered Democrat in 2020.”]
Voter registration records maintained by the Monmouth County Board of Elections show Mirandi was registered as a Democrat for elections going back to 2016. At her swearing-in, she told redbankgreen that she registered as a Democrat in the 1980s and maintained her party affiliation, though “I vote for the person,” rather than party, she added.
Democrats hold all six seats on the council, as well as the mayoralty, and have dominated borough politics for more than three decades.
Here’s the press release: Horgan & Okeson press release 022322
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