A state judge has removed from office the interim mayor of Rockaway Township and installed a new interim mayor, Adam Salberg, for the next five weeks in the latest twist stemming from the unexpected death of Mayor Michael Dachisen.
Superior Court Assignment Judge Stuart Minkowitz invalidated on Monday a hastily-scheduled Rockaway Township Council meeting that began at 10:30 p.m. on Friday Sept. 14, and was called in part to name an interim mayor and replace the municipal attorney.
The council’s five-member majority wing had been at odds with Dachisen. At the meeting, it chose former Councilman Paul Minenna as interim mayor, with the four other council members voting against him.
The same faction that night also replaced John Iaciofano as municipal attorney with John Inglesino, a former Rockaway Township mayor and ex-Morris County freeholder.
Officials scheduled the highly-unusual, late-night meeting two nights after a local church rescinded its invitation to host the meeting on Sept. 13.
The urgency stemmed from New Jersey’s municipal vacancies law. It requires governing bodies to name a successor within 30 days, after which the choice goes to the local committee of the political party to which the former official belonged.
Dachisen, who died Aug. 15, was a Republican, as are seven of the nine council members.
Critics of the council majority, though, questioned the validity of the meeting, citing the 48-hour public meeting notice required under the Open Public Meeting Act. While officials said the 10:30 p.m. meeting on Sept. 14 was scheduled at 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 12, notices posted in the municipal building would not have been seen by the public until the following morning.
On Sept. 17, three days after the council meeting, the Rockaway Township Republican Committee convened and chose Salberg for the interim mayor’s post.
Inglesino responded via a letter to the committee’s chair, Dan Anello, asserting that Minenna was the lawfully-elected mayor.
Salberg’s wife, Lisa, then filed a lawsuit, joined by more than a dozen other residents as plaintiffs, seeking to invalidate the meeting.
Lisa Salberg was among the organizers of a petition drive, launched soon after Dachisen’s death, aimed at recalling from office Council President Jeremy Jedynak.
The case was heard Monday by Minkowitz in Morristown.
Minkowitz, in his official order, decreed that “any and all actions taken by the Township of Rockaway at the Sept. 14, 2018 special meeting are null and void.”
Afterward, Adam Salberg went from the courthouse to the municipal building, where he met with department heads.
“We knew we had the law on our side. We knew we were right, and the judge simply verified that to us,” Salberg said.
Contacted on Monday afternoon, Jedynak said the council is exploring its legal options in response to the judge’s ruling.
Salberg’s time in office will be brief. The winner of the Nov. 6 special election for mayor, in which Councilman Michael Puzio is the Republican candidate and unopposed by the Democrats, will immediately take office upon the outcome of the election for a term running through 2019.
Puzio, Minenna and Salberg were the three candidates for interim mayor that the local Republican group had submitted the council prior to its Sept. 14 meeting.
Puzio voted against Minenna for mayor and joined the four dissenting council members in abstaining on the vote to replace municipal attorney.