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Tales of the Tape: Caldwell Argument turns Ugly during Council Meeting

The Caldwell Council (minus Mayor Ann Dassing, who was sick) on February 5 at the regularly scheduled council meeting.
Diane Lilli

Local party politics took an ugly turn last week in Caldwell.

Near the end of the Caldwell Council meeting last Tuesday night, February 5, a bitter altercation occurred between councilman Ed Durkin (D) and the borough attorney, Greg Mascera. 

At issue was the handling of an emotional issue concerning a family in town that had spoken during the public session of a previous council meeting about problems that arose for numerous reasons during their entire family’s usage of the Caldwell Community Center. (Click here for previous article/editorial).

During the council meeting on January 15, where the Mignone family including dad Michael and his wife and two children were in attendance, Durkin expressed his apology to the family for any wrongdoing or upset they may have endured and also promised to follow up with them on the problems. These accusations have not been proven as of this time.

But a letter, signed by the borough attorney Mascera, was sent out to the family on January 23 with a check for $150, and was signed as being from the governing body of Caldwell. Turns out it was indeed agreed upon by some of the governing body - but not by Durkin who had publicly vowed to follow up for the disgruntled family. And, though this letter was sent legally and in accordance with the borough laws, Durkin was upset because he had expressed a public interest to help the family in question and resolve any hurt feelings between them and the borough and community center.

Mignone attended the Caldwell Council meeting on January 15 and read a 6-page letter detailing his frustration and upset at the Caldwell Community Center, the director of said center, and the borough administrator due to a chain of events involving his young boys, his family's membership at the center, rules he found vague, and more.

The borough sent this new letter to the Mignone family, which included a check for $154.50, from the borough of Caldwell, “as reimbursement for the balance of the term of your membership from October 19, 2012 until January 16, 2013.” The letter was signed from “On Behalf of the Borough of Caldwell”.

Durkin, during the council meeting February 5, was upset he was not included in the discussions or letter sent out in the council’s name to the Mignone family before it was drafted, written and mailed.

“I reached out to this gentleman (Mignone) to get his side of the story,” he noted. “I wanted to hear the resident’s side. I cannot believe you guys resolved this matter with a letter sent out from the governing body from our attorney. I had zero knowdlege of this letter - zero.”

Durkin also said he believes the way the letter was handled was wrong, and that the procedures were incorrect as well, since he was not included.

Masera disagreed.
“I do not set procedure, councilman,” he noted. “You should learn procedure. You do not call out anyone on council in public.”

As the argument grew more heated, Mascera said he was instructed to draft the letter by the mayor and governing body.

But Durkin was adamant: he wants to be included in matters impacting residents of Caldwell - saying this was vital to him especially if he publicly states he wants to get involved.

Referring to his fellow councilmen Durkin said, “I know we are not all the best of friends. I’m an elected official and I want the best for the residnts of Caldwell regardless.”

Caldwell Council President Richard Hauser also commented, saying “Along the lines of some of those comments, I think comments at the last meeting were inapropriate instead of throwing our government employees under the bus.”

Durkin responded.
“I am not apologizing (since) all I need to get is two (sides) of the story,” he said.

At one point, Durkin said they could “step outside” to talk further about the matter, but this statement was taken as a threat by Mascera who said he wanted this statement to be put into the official minutes of the meeting.

Mascera, who runs the council meetings with a professional and courteous manner, was upset by the discussion. Truly, over the past 4 years as borough attorney, he has never been seen as this upset and emotional, and has instead usually been the voice of reason during arguments.
“I have never been spoken to in a council meeting, in four years, or accused of any wrong doing in a council meeting for four years,” he said. “I resent the fact that Mr. Durkin did not pick up the phone and tell me to discuss the situation.”

This last point, however, may be a moot point since Durkin could not call the borough attorney since the letter had already been sent.

The argument between Durkin and Mascera, emotional and loud, shows clearly a power struggle on this council, with 3 Democrats, 3 Republicans and a Republican Mayor with the tie-breaking vote. The borough attorney is non-partisan and works for the entire borough and governing body, and has no vote in any matter.

Though the letter was sent in all legality from the governing body without Durkin’s approval, this argument leads to a bigger question:
Why wasn’t Durkin included in a discussion on this letter before it was sent out, from the council members, since he was the only voice speaking up so loudly at that February 15 meeting saying he wanted to get involved and help resolve the issue? Though not legally necessary, it would have been a courtesy among fellow members of the governing body.

At last week’s council meeting, emotional pubic arguments and hurt feelings were the result of the letter sent out to the Mignone family.
Though politics makes strange bed fellows, in any small town, bi-partisanship can result in strong community service. Last week, the council failed to reach out across party lines and perhaps work as one unified governing body.

Durkin said, in a short interview today, that he wants to accomplish positive things in Caldwell with the help of his Republican and Democrat fellow council members and Mayor.
“It’s so easy to go with the flow and follow the status quo,” he said. “The people of Caldwell demand more. It was a very tough election, with everything stacked against me. I came out as the top vote getter.The people of Caldwell spoke. They want me to facilitate the action of bringing the community together. Regardless of the past politics, I want to work as a team.”

Updates to follow.


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