By JOHN T. WARD
Red Bank councilman and Democratic party chairman Ed Zipprich issued a “demand” Tuesday that two party members who sued for the removal of Angela Mirandi from the council reimburse the borough for its legal expenses.
In a press release sent to redbankgreen late Tuesday, Zipprich said the Red Bank Democratic Municipal Committee he heads followed “a process that was transparent and permitted by the bylaws” in choosing three potential successors to Erik Yngstrom, who resigned from the council January 19.
The statement followed a decision by Superior Court Judge David Bauman earlier in the day rejecting a request that Mirandi be temporarily removed from the council while a lawsuit over her appointment is pending.
In court filings, plaintiffs Kate Okeson and Councilwoman Kathy Horgan argued that they had been “illegally” excluded from RBDMC’s process of vetting candidates to forward to the mayor and council. That tainted Mirandi’s appointment, they alleged.
Horgan and Okeson sued Zipprich, the local party, Mirandi and the borough government. As of Tuesday, they said they had not decided whether to continue pursuing the matter, and did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
In his 10-page decision, Bauman wrote that it was “unrebutted” that neither Horgan nor Okeson was informed of any RBDMC meeting to discuss candidates or “consulted or in any way involved” in the process.
Zipprich previously said that an ad-hoc committee that included former mayor Ed McKenna, rather than the 18-member RBDMC, selected the party’s three nominees. He has not publicly identified the committee’s other members.
He formed the committee “so that nobody could say that I am controlling who or what is being instituted in this replacement,” Zipprich said at the February 9 council meeting at which Mirandi was appointed on a 3-to-1 vote, with one abstention.
Attorney Thaddeus Maciag, representing Horgan and Okeson, wrote in a court filing earlier this month that, “remarkably… none of the defendants – including Zipprich himself – have even attempted to defend the legality or propriety” of the way in which the three nominees were selected.
“This is because the parties know that Zipprich and the RBDMC acted illegally,” Maciag wrote.
In filings, Zipprich did not dispute that he’d left the 18-member RBDMC “county committee” out of the process. Instead, he argued that “there was no statutory requirement that all members of the RBDMC meet and confer” to vet candidates for the vacancy, as Bauman summarized it.
But Bauman found that it’s not “a settled question of law that a ‘municipal committee’ must consist of all members of that committee, or cannot consist of non-elected members, as plaintiffs suggest.”
Nor is the law clear on the remedy available to members of municipal committees who are frozen out of a political party’s nomination process, Bauman wrote.
He rejected the request that he remove Mirandi pending a possible trial on the issue. Okeson and Horgan had not demonstrated a likelihood that they would prevail at trial, Bauman found.
In addition, the possibility that Mirandi’s council votes “may prove pivotal,” as Okeson and Horgan argued, “is too speculative to warrant the drastic remedy of removing her from office,” he wrote.
Here’s the decision: Bauman decision 041222
In Tuesday’s press release, Zipprich said the party “implemented a process that was transparent and permitted by the bylaws as it concerns the vetting and selection of replacement candidates.”
Neither side, however, submitted a copy of the bylaws, and Okeson, who was the organization’s secretary, contended the 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 the press statement, Zipprich wrote that “the Red Bank Democrats demand that Horgan and Okeson reimburse the Borough for costs incurred.”
At a special session March 18, the council, with just three members able to vote, authorized the borough to pay two lawyers up to $17,500 each to represent the municipality and Mirandi in the case.
Horgan and Okeson did not respond to a request for comment on Zipprich’s statement.
On Tuesday, they told redbankgreen that Bauman’s decision “appears to give the Municipal Chair the ability to bypass all 18 elected county committee members. We are evaluating our legal options.”
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