Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Staton mess

Trenton’s city council voted last night to dismiss Deputy City Clerk and former At Large Councilwoman Cordelia Staton. This brings the curtain down on the first act of this saga. Let us hope that there is no second act in the way of a lawsuit.

The five individuals on council who voted to dismiss (Bethea, Caldwell-Wilson, Chester, Holly-Ward, McBride) Ms. Staton are to be commended for their action…if not they’re reasoning and rationale as reported in the press.

And even though we disagree with his position, we acknowledge that the South Ward Councilman Muschal stood by his principles and voted to keep the Deputy Clerk.

We are somewhat disappointed that the East Ward Councilwoman, Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, abstained for the vote. Hopefully, this was because of some reason other than an aversion to taking sides by making a controversial decision either way.

This situation quickly polarized city residents as demonstrated by the attendance at the August 5 city council meeting. Council chambers was packed and you could almost draw a line down the middle of the room that neatly divided the pro-dismissal and pro-Staton sides.

Overlooked in the outrage about Mayor Mack’s total mishandling of the situation are some facts which should be reviewed in order to put the whole affair in perspective.

Item 1: As far back as early 2007, Ms. Staton seemed to be aiming for the City Clerk position vacated by Anthony Conti’s resignation. Nothing wrong on the face of that, but keep in mind two points.
  • She was less than one year into her second term as Councilwoman At Large.
  • She was not certified as a municipal clerk* and may not have even started taking the required classes as yet.

Item 2: After not finding a suitable permanent replacement for Conti, in the fall of 2009 city council started taking applications from those interested the position. Ms. Staton put her name in for consideration even though after almost three years she was not yet a certified for the position.

Item 3: In February, 2010, Council member Melone spoke on the record of the need to let the new council taking office on July 1 to have the opportunity to select their own clerk and urged his colleagues not to make a permanent appointment. After repeated attempts to demonstrate a fair and impartial process at naming a permanent city clerk, Ms. Staton had removed her name from consideration, council terminated long time (and as yet un-certified) Acting City Clerk Juanita Joyner and hired Leona Baylor as Acting Deputy Clerk.** Citing the need for an experienced hand to guide the city through the spring elections, former clerk Anthony Conti was brought in as a consultant to help Ms. Baylor.

Item 4: In June, 2010, Ms. Staton discreetly resigned her council seat with less than a month to go in her term, quit her job at the Board of Education, and was quietly appointed Deputy Municipal Clerk for the city of Trenton by some of her colleagues. She still had not achieved certification as a Municipal Clerk.

Item 5: Voting in favor of the appointment were Councilman Melone (in apparent conflict with his stated position earlier in the year), Councilman Pintella (Staton’s running mate in 2002 and 2006) and Councilwoman Lartigue (who was not present at the meeting but voted via her cell phone). This vote raised a couple of procedural questions:
  • Is Lartigue’s vote via cell phone allowed?
  • What is the number required for a majority vote amongst the four council members actually present at the meeting, two or three?

Item 6: The Mack administration, regardless of its motives, was correct to point out the improper way that Ms. Staton was appointed. This did not give them the right or reason to treat her the way they did. You don’t fire someone by leaving a note on their chair while they are at lunch and you don’t call the police to have them escorted out of the building.

We’re sorry that Ms. Staton was mistreated by the Mack administration. Still that doesn’t remove the fact that she held the position through improper actions by the previous council as they tried to take care of one of their own.

We hope the current council will get some definite rulings on the propriety of voting by phone and other procedural matters before they get caught up in gaffes like their predecessors.

*Apparently, NJ state law allows the appointing of an Acting Municipal Clerk who has yet completed the course work and passed the certification exam providing that the appointee does obtain certification within a certain time frame.

**Also according to NJ state law, a person holding a valid municipal clerk certification can not be appointed Acting Municipal Clerk but can hold the title of Acting Deputy Clerk and fulfill all the duties of the Municipal Clerk.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Mack administration should have taken out a full page ad and fired her via newspaper! How can someone illegally and unethically obtain something and then whine about how it was taken from them? Please, she has not even taken the required coursework for the certification or passed the test. Am I missing something here? If she wanted the job since 2007 she had ample time to get her act together.