Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Councilman Accuses Mayor of Offering Favor to Get His Vote

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Councilman Accuses Mayor of Offering Favor to Get His Vote

Article excerpt

The incoming president of the Dumont Borough Council accused the newly elected mayor of offering a quid pro quo for political favors at a reorganization meeting Tuesday night that devolved into a shouting match.

The council president, Kenneth Freeman, delivered a nine-minute speech in which he alleged that Mayor James Kelly, a fellow Republican, had privately urged him to vote in a slate of borough professionals in exchange for removing Freeman's name from a pending lawsuit against the council.

Freeman read aloud from what he said was a transcript of a recording of a Dec. 23 meeting he had with Kelly, citing it as one in a series of encounters in which he was pressured by local Republicans to "get on board" with the party agenda.

"Vote for these professionals, get rid of Paster, get rid of the subcommittee, and then you're telling me the lawsuit is going to go away," Freeman said, according to the transcript, referring to Borough Attorney Gregg Paster.

"That's what they told me," the transcript quotes Kelly as saying.

The lawsuit in question was filed by former Mayor Donald Winant, former Councilman Michael Licameli and a former longtime borough employee, Jack Eckel, all of whom had resisted subpoenas by a borough subcommittee investigating contamination at Dumont's Department of Public Works site.

The defamation suit was filed two days after Republicans -- with strong support from Winant -- claimed all three open seats in the November election. It ignited a long-brewing conflict among current and former borough officials that came to a head as the new council took office.

The large audience at Tuesday night's meeting sat in restless silence as Freeman read his statement. Freeman said he would change his party affiliation to independent, as did Democratic Councilman Harry Stylianou, who accused the three incoming Republicans, including Kelly, of forming a transition team that excluded the other council members from critical decisions.

At Tuesday's meeting, council members referenced an email -- addressed to Winant and Freeman, among others, dated Nov. 16 and provided to The Record -- in which Eckel proposed a list of political appointments, most of which appeared on the list that Kelly passed on for council approval.

"The transition team was comprised of people who have no business giving advice on how to run this town," Stylianou said.

The tone of the meeting began to escalate when Eckel, who was seated in the front row, interrupted Stylianou and Councilman Matthew Carrick.

"Excuse me, mayor," Carrick said, looking at Kelly. "Could you silence him please?"

Kelly used his gavel for the first of what would be many times, as council members -- most of whom were not familiar with Freeman's claims until Tuesday -- grew increasingly incensed.

"To answer the accusations that the professionals were predetermined by Jack Eckel or anybody else, that's absolutely untrue," Kelly said in his first statement of the night. …

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