BLOOMFIELD, NJ — The Bloomfield Township Council held its reorganizational meeting on Monday evening. Without any new or incumbent members being sworn in, there was no pomp — or state and Essex County elected officials on hand with platitudes. But the proceedings did attract a sizable audience due to criticism that 1st Ward Councilman Elias Chalet should resign his seat because of a bribery charge alleged against him by the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General.
Chalet was present for the meeting, the first time he has attended a council session since Nov. 2. He was arrested on Nov. 16 and charged with bribery in official and political matters.
The council chamber, which seats around 180, was nearly filled on Monday. There were about 40 Chalet supporters sitting in the front rows and about an equal amount of Chalet critics, organized under a citizens’ group banner calling itself CORRUPT, sitting in the back rows. Other members of the audience ostensibly took no side in the Chalet issue, so it may be assumed that they would have come anyway to the first meeting on the council schedule or out of curiousity for the circumstances.
The public-comment period went quietly with only four speakers having something to say. One speaker, Russ Zimmerman, again challenged Mayor Michael Venezia’s account of a possible leak of information about Town Hall records being subpoenaed. Venezia had publicly stated that Zimmerman had some inside track about the subpoena, calling Zimmerman a liar when he claimed he did not. Zimmerman came to the meeting with a recording of Township Administrator Matthew Watkins publicly acknowledging the court order. The mayor said nothing to this when Zimmerman questioned him. Venezia, instead, repeatedly stated that the public hearing was not a question-and-answer period.
Four new Bloomfield Police officers were appointed, effective Jan. 6. Bloomfield Police Director Sam DeMaio said the additions would give the force 119 sworn members.
Councilman Joseph Lopez put into motion a resolution requesting Chalet’s resignation.
“There are grave concerns of confidence,” Lopez read from a statement. “The council should ask Councilman Chalet to resign immediately.”
No one, however, seconded the resolution so it was not voted on.
Following the meeting, Chalet said he would be coming to every meeting and following his attorney’s advice.
“I will be here doing what I was elected to do, representing the people,” Chalet said. “I’ll be doing that until the judicial system tells me otherwise.”
Venezia said he would not ask Chalet to step down.
“If you looked at the crowd,” he said, “you saw a 50-50 split with probably more people in support of Councilman Chalet.
“We have a judicial system and there’s a reason why you’re innocent until proven guilty,” Venezia continued. “I haven’t the power to remove him, only the courts and a recall election can do that. We’re not the judicial system. We’re not judge and jury.”