Hillsdale's Firefighter Councilmen Must Skip Some Votes, Lawyer Says
Borough attorney Steven Paul said that two newly-elected councilmen, who are also firefighters, must recuse themselves from all votes regarding fire department matters.
Only four of Hillsdale's six council members will be able to vote on issues related to the fire department next year, according to borough attorney Steven Paul.
Recently-elected Councilman Tom Kelley and Councilman-elect Jason DeGise are members of the Hillsdale Fire Department and sit on the board of fire officers. To have them make decisions in the department, and then vote on those decisions as part of the council, would constitute a conflict of interest, Paul said.
Kelley called Paul's decision "ridiculous," noting that other firefighters have served on the council and voted on department-related issues. Kelley said was willing to recuse himself from monetary issues, but believed he should still be able to vote on policies and other department matters.
"I will fight to have that vote," Kelley said.
Mayor Max Arnowitz, who is also a member of the fire department but not a voting member of the council, said he understood Paul's decision.
"What happened in the past isn't always going to be legal in the future," Arnowitz said.
New Jersey law states "it shall be lawful for a member of a volunteer fire company, ambulance, first aid, hazardous materials, or rescue squad, including an officer of the company or squad, to serve as an elected official on the governing body of the municipal government wherein the emergency services are provided; however, the volunteer shall recuse himself from any vote concerning the emergency services provider of which he is a member."
DeGise, who will take office in January, said they would look for other interpretations of the law, but ultimately would follow it.
"Whatever the statute says, we will abide by," DeGise said.
The borough may be represented by a new attorney next year. Arnowitz noted that new councils typically choose a new lawyer, and thanked Paul for his service at Tuesday's council meeting, which will be the last for the year.
DeGise told Patch that the 2013 council was reviewing candidates for various professional positions, but had not yet made any decisions.
"There are going to be changes next year," DeGise said.
The new council will vote on the borough attorney and other professionals at their reorganization meeting January 6.