A council member and the borough attorney clashed at a recent council meeting over how an issue involving residents and the Caldwell Community Center was resolved.
Caldwell Councilman Ed Durkin directed his anger to Borough Attorney Greg Mascera at the Feb. 5 meeting, his second since being sworn in. Durkin insisted he should have been included in the resolution of an issue between members of the Caldwell Community Center after he stated publicly at the Jan. 15 meeting that he intended to get involved.
Durkin said he had no knowledge a resolution was reached until he contacted the family and learned a letter had been sent out on behalf of the governing body from the borough attorney.
Mascera, in his defense, said he was following procedure set by the mayor. He said he drafted the letter and sent it to the mayor and borough administrator and he is not in control of what happens or gets communicated from that point.
“This has never happened in four years,” Mascera said. “I am shocked that a professional council person would accuse a borough attorney of wrongdoing.”
In the exchange lasting several minutes, Durkin repeatedly insisted he should have been in the loop.
"I feel that I was circumvented through the current protocol and procedure in place," Durkin said after the meeting.
Meanwhile, Mascera contended the councilman had plenty of opportunity to discuss his issue before the meeting. He said he had given his business card to Durkin and told him to reach out with any questions. He also said he walked through the parking lot with Durkin on the night of the meeting.
“The next thing I know he’s trying to stare me down in a council meeting and implying that I did something incorrectly,” Mascera said.
Mascera added, “He felt out of the process and he wasn’t aware of what the process is.”
The Mignone family of Caldwell brought their grievance to the council on Jan. 15, when Durkin said he would personally follow up with them. The issue involved a dispute between the members and the center's management over rules that prohibit certain activities in the gymnasium.
Before the Feb. 5 meeting, a resolution was reached by members of the council who sit on the community center committee without Durkin’s input.
The attorney sent a letter on behalf of the governing body to the Mignone family with a resolution to reimburse the family $150 for the unused portion of their membership.
After the meeting Durkin said, “Mr. Mascera may be correct about procedure since he is the legal expert. Being that he is an attorney, I am sure he understands the importance of getting permission and input from the governing body if he is going to act on behalf of the entire council and send out a legal correspondence to a resident of Caldwell regarding a very sensitive matter that I publicly stated that I would look into.”
The heated exchange, which lasted several minutes, included Durkin asking Mascera privately if he wanted to go outside, said the attorney, who took this as an invitation for a fight. Durkin responded that his intention was only “to talk” in private outside the council chambers.
Mascera said Durkin’s reaction may be a result of him being green.
“Most new council members get their feet wet gradually and learn the process and then act accordingly,” he said.
He added, “There is no place for partisan politics at a municipal level. Partisan politics in my view get in the way of what is best for the community.”
In response, Durkin agreed the council needs to work effectively regardless of politics. The current Caldwell council is made up of three Democrats and three Republicans.
"There is a political divide on the Caldwell Council," said Durkin, a Democrat. "However, I do not want to believe any miscommunication or disagreement is procedure/protocol has anything to do with the political divide."