Because of the urgency to deal with the fallout from the WW-P school budget defeat, the West Windsor Township Council postponed indefinitely any further action on the issue of animal control services.
The Township Council was originally going to take another vote on the matter on May 9, in response to a lawsuit filed by former animal control officer Bettina Roed, who was terminated last month as a result of the township’s shared services agreement with East Windsor.
Trenton-based attorney Walter Bliss, who represents Roed, filed a lawsuit to meet the 45-day statute of limitations as a precautionary measure to protect his client, he told the Township Council at its meeting on April 25.
To protect the township against one portion of the lawsuit, however, Councilman Charles Morgan has asked the council to take another vote. The resolution would reaffirm the council’s position on the matter, this time with Morgan physically attending the meeting.
However, the Township Council had to schedule a presentation from the WW-P school district officials about their own budget, which the Township Council had to review for cuts (see story, page 1) in light of its defeat last month.
Because the council is busy with that budget, as well as its own municipal budget (see story below), the council removed the animal control issue from the agenda for May 9.
“We are going to take up the matter after that in some shape or form, but we don’t know what that is,” he said.
In a letter to the council earlier last month, Bliss alleged that the 3-2 vote the council took on an agreement with East Windsor for animal control services, which effectively terminated Roed’s position, violated the Open Public Meetings Act and is invalid.
Among the reasons Bliss lists for the violation is that Morgan has said that he had difficulty hearing the proceedings because he attended the meeting via telephone. Bliss also alleges that the agreement with East Windsor does not provide for all of the animal control services required by state law.
He also alleged that the council cited a “personnel matter” as a reason to go into closed session, even though there was no personnel issue. Bliss asked the council to revoke or take a new vote on the resolution, which it approved on March 7.Bliss said the Open Public Meetings Act requires every municipality to hold public comment, but that the public comment is meaningless “if appropriate means have not been provided to ensure that the public is heard by all members of the governing body participating in the related vote.”
“It is compelling in this regard that at a subsequent council meeting, Councilman Morgan stated that if he had known at the March 7 meeting what he learned later, he would have voted differently,” Bliss wrote.
However, Morgan said that when he saw the lawsuit raised an issue with his absence from the meeting when he voted, he decided to call on the council to take a re-vote. Morgan said he investigated the matter and found the allegations Roed’s supporters had made were untrue, and has since decided there is no basis for changing his vote.
Bliss’s second argument in the lawsuit was that the decision was made behind closed doors in executive session. Morgan said there was a personnel discussion in executive session, but no decisions were made.
Bliss sent the letter to the council and filed the lawsuit after the council told Roed’s supporters it was sticking behind its agreement.