27th Feb 2023

Who is the rightful Palisades Park council member? Hearing to decide – by Kristie Cattafi

Link to Original Article – Published February 18, 2023

A court hearing to determine who is the rightful council person after two people were sworn in for one vacant seat will continue later this month. The dispute centers around who has the authority to fill the vacancy: the Democratic County Committee or the majority of the council. The council seat became vacant when Democratic Councilman Chong “Paul” Kim won the mayoral election in November 2022.

During the Jan. 3 reorganization meeting, Palisades Park Democratic County Committee Chair James Rotundo submitted a letter to the mayor and council, publicly naming three individuals for consideration to fill the vacant seat: himself, Suk Min, and Arlene Star. However, three council members contested the Democratic County Committee’s actions, arguing that the letter submitting the three names was dated Dec. 28, 2022, prior to Kim’s official resignation from his council seat. Based on legal advice and timelines, on Jan. 31, they voted and swore in Democratic former Councilman Andy Min, who was not on the list of recommended candidates.

In response, the Democratic County Committee swore in Suk Min to fill the council seat the following day. However, Cleary Giacobbe Alfieri Jacobs LLC filed a complaint on behalf of Council President Cynthia Pirrera, Stephani Jang, Jae Park, and the Borough Council, naming Mayor Kim, Councilman Jason Kim, Councilman Michael Vietri, and the Democratic County Committee of Palisades Park as defendants.

On the same day, the Democratic committee convened to fill the vacancy, citing the Borough Council’s failure to act on the list of submitted names within 30 days. Suk Min was selected and immediately sworn into office, according to court documents.

On Feb. 16, a hearing to show cause took place in front of State Superior Court Judge Peter Geiger, during which Mayor Chong “Paul” Kim, borough administrator Dave Lorenzo, and Palisades Park County Committee Chair James Rotundo gave testimony, as reported by Scott Salmon, the attorney representing Mayor Kim, Councilman Jason Kim, Councilman Michael Vietri, and the Democratic County Committee of Palisades Park. The hearing will resume on Feb. 27, the same day as the next scheduled Palisades Park Council meeting.

Attorney Matthew J. Giacobbe for Pirrera, Jang, and Park said subpoenas went out Friday for text messages and emails between Lorenzo Mayor Kim and councilmen Kim and Vietri regarding the cancelation of the Jan. 31 council meeting. Giacobbe said he is also looking forward to questioning Vietri and Kim at the hearing.

Giacobbe said their position is two-fold as the list of Democratic candidates provided by the committee was created when no vacancy existed and the mayor’s cancellation of the Jan. 31 meeting and efforts to “thwart a quorum” are contrary to law and the duties of an elected official.

“We are, and my clients are, very pleased with the way the hearing went and the argument we are advancing,” Giacobbe said. “We are confident in the outcome and looking forward to the additional testimony to bolster our case.”

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