Councilman Lou Signorino ws named council president Wednesday night.
BY LINDA SMITH HANCHARICK
WEST MILFORD — A divided township council went to a tie-breaker Wednesday night and selected Councilman Lou Signorino as council president.
The tie-breaker, though, wasn’t the usual one where the mayor breaks all ties. Instead, a section of the township code that was not updated when the township went to its current form of government in 2004 was brought into play. Chapter 15-6 dictates the choosing of the council president. It states that if the members of the council are not able to choose a council president within five ballots, “then the member who in the election for members of the municipal council received the greatest number of votes shall be the council president.”
That code was from a time when all members of the council were elected at the same time in the same election. Currently, two council seats are up each year.
In January at the reorganization meeting, Mayor Bettina Bieri broke the 3-3 tie among four members of the council - Mike Hensley, Pete McGuinness, Signorino and Tim Wagner. She chose Hensley to serve as council president. But since then, the section of the code that dictates how the position is filled was discovered.
Attorney Fred Semrau told the council on Wednesday that this section was left over from the prior form of government. The mayor, by statute, breaks the ties in this government. This would be the exception, he added.
“From a legal perspective, even though it doesn’t fit, that’s what’s on the books,” Semrau told the council.
He explained they could keep what was done in January and change the code or go with what is in the code.
“We need to follow the code as it stands, given it’s been looked at many, many times,” said Councilman Tim Wagner. “If it’s up to me, we have to follow the town code as it stands. It’s an important leadership role in this town.”
Councilwoman Marilyn Lichtenberg thought differently. She said that in the past the council amended other areas of the code when necessary.
“It should meet this form of government. That’s what people voted for,” she said.
Hensley attempted to table the issue until the council could amend the code, but Semrau said he wouldn’t recommend that. All members of the council were present so tabling it would not be appropriate.
With four council members nominated, McGuinness and Wagner declined, leaving Hensley and Signorino. Going by the vote totals, Signorino had the higher total, running for reelection in 2016. McGuinness, who was elected for the first time to the council in 2016, would have had the position if he didn’t decline since he had the highest vote total.
Signorino served as council president in 2013.
The role of the council president is to step in and serve in the event the mayor is absent or unable.
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