BLOOMFIELD, NJ — The Bloomfield council chamber was brought to silence Monday night when a township resident asked the mayor a question that he would not answer. The silence lasted for more than four minutes.
The resident, David Tucker, the GOP mayoral candidate in the upcoming election, stood at the podium and asked Mayor Michael Venezia, a Democrat, if the mayor was going to use his own money to reimburse taxpayers since the Department of Public Works had to remove his political signage from township trees and utility poles.
“Team Venezia posted signs illegally near polling places for the primary election,” Tucker said during the public hearing portion of the agenda.
He said he estimated the cost to remove the signs to be $600. The primary election was June 7.
Venezia responded by telling Tucker the public hearing portion of the agenda was for public comments. Tucker then asked Municipal Clerk Louise Palagano how much time did he have left? Township ordinance allows each speaker five minutes during the public hearing.
“Four minutes and 12 seconds,” Palagano responded.
For the next four minutes, the full council and a small audience of about a dozen people sat quietly until Tucker’s time was up. Tucker himself stood at the podium and stared at the mayor during those minutes.
Following the meeting, there was a general discussion as to what, if anything, could have been done to end the silence. Tucker was not present.
The mayor, for his part, refused to budge. He said Tucker was asking a politically motivate question and that he, the mayor, would only answer questions relating to the functioning of Bloomfield government. The next day, he said the same thing.
“He’s asking something campaign-related,” Venezia said in a telephone interview. “It had nothing to do with the functioning of township government. He’s trying to use the chambers for his own political platform and positioning.”
Venezia did acknowledge that some of his political signage was affixed to utility poles by a few over-zealous supporters but to his knowledge none on any township trees.
“We took most of the signs down,” he said.
Tucker said the reason for the silence was because he was waiting for an answer.
“I’m a private citizen,” he said in a telephone interview. “I deserve an answer. I wasn’t asking a politically motivated question.”
Tucker said it was illegal to post any type of sign on utility poles or township trees.
“Is Team Venezia going to repay the town for taking down the illegal signs?” Tucker said. “I know I upset the mayor. He could have said, ‘I’ll look into it.’”
But the mayor gave two subsequent speakers answers to their questions, Tucker said. Those speakers were Rich Galioto and Stephen DeMarzo.
Galioto, who is also a mayoral candidate this year, running as an independent, asked Venezia if he, the mayor, was under investigation. This question stems from the confiscation of township records by the NJ Office of the Attorney General following the indictment of 1st Ward Councilman Elias Chalet, for alleged bribery. The mayor gave Galioto a simple “no.”
DeMarzo asked about a bridge near Clark’s Pond. The mayor told him it is on Bloomfield School District property and would not be repaired by September.
Venezia said he answered Galioto’s question because it was nonsensical.
“We’re not even on the OAG’s radar with this indictment,” he said. “I answered Steve because people don’t know the bridge is BOE property. I answered him as a courtesy.”
When contacted and informed of the silence in Bloomfield, Irvington Municipal Clerk Harold Wiener said that if a speaker does not speak, he can be called for being out of order since an administrative code usually addresses public hearings as a time when interested parties make comments. But a person is also given the time to collect their thoughts before speaking, he said.
“So long as a person has the right to speak,” Wiener said. “They don’t have the right to stand there.”
A good administrative code would cover the possibility of a prolonged silence, he said. But in the final analysis, a challenge would clarify the law.
In Irvington, Wiener said it is not permitted for a speaker to give their unused time to another speaker. But he did not know if this was correct or not.
“We haven’t been challenged,” he said. “You don’t know until you’re challenged.”
Tucker said five minutes is five minutes.
“I’m not in violation of any ordinance,” he said. “I chose to spend my last four minutes and 12 seconds waiting for an answer.”
The mayor seemed to agree.
“It’s up to Dave Tucker,” he said. “If he wants to go up there and be in silence, it’s up to him.”
Wiener was designated a master clerk by the International Institute of American Clerks, in 2005.
The Bloomfield Administrative Code says anyone “may address the council on any matter concerning the township’s business or any matter over which the council has control.”