ATLANTIC CITY — Wildwood Mayor Gary DeMarzo announced Wednesday that he will give up his job as a city police officer and continue to serve as the city’s mayor.
The announcement came less than three hours after Superior Court Judge Valerie Armstrong ordered DeMarzo to make a choice.
“Defendant Gary DeMarzo is restrained from taking any actions whatsoever in his capacity as City of Wildwood Commissioner/Mayor and/or Police Officer until such time he elects which office to retain; i.e., that of City of Wildwood Commissioner or City of Wildwood Police Officer,” Armstrong read from her order Wednesday just after 3:30 p.m.
During Wednesday’s regular 6:30 p.m. City Commission meeting, Commissioner Al Brannen opened the meeting and then said DeMarzo wanted to speak.
Sitting in his usual chair at the dais, DeMarzo, who had been on an unpaid leave of absence from the Police Department since May 2007, said he had made a decision.
“It’s my strong commitment to finish what I started,” DeMarzo said. “There’s too much success that truly outweighs the sacrifice.”
He continued: “I’m choosing to retain my elected office.”
Armstrong told DeMarzo that he must notify the other two commissioners, Brannen and Edward Harshaw, in writing.
“Upon submission of such letter, the other office shall be deemed vacant in its entirety,” Armstrong said. He has until 4 p.m. today to submit that written notice to the judge.
Armstrong’s ruling and DeMarzo’s decision came two days after Wildwood Police Lt. Richard Adair filed a lawsuit asking the courts to force DeMarzo to comply with a Feb. 22 appellate court ruling.
Previous court rulings allowed him to hold both positions as long as he did not participate in any actions related to the Police Department and other collective bargaining units in the city, but the appellate court found that restriction left the city without a fully independent commissioner.
“The trial court erred in permitting DeMarzo to continue to hold two incompatible public offices in the same municipality,” the court wrote.
The appellate court gave DeMarzo 20 days from that date to choose one job or the other because of the inherent conflicts of holding both positions.
“The appellate division said 20 days. It meant 20 days,” Armstrong said.
DeMarzo was elected to City Commission in May 2007 and had been on an unpaid leave of absence from his job as a city police officer since he was sworn into office. He became mayor in December 2009 after then-Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. and Commissioner Bill Davenport were recalled.
The court gave DeMarzo until March 15 to pick one job, but instead he placed himself on the city’s layoff list along with four other police officers. Those layoffs take effect June 21.
“I do not view a layoff as compliance with the appellate division decision,” Armstrong said, adding that the Feb. 22 decision was clear and a layoff did not meet the decision’s intent.
DeMarzo sat in the audience as Armstrong issued her opinion in Atlantic City’s civil courthouse. After she left the bench, DeMarzo said he was not surprised by the judge’s ruling, calling it an inevitability.
He said he would have to speak with his family before making his final decision on which position to keep.
“I’m going to do what’s best for the city,” he said.
DeMarzo, 43, who joined the Police Department full-time in 1998, has asked the state Supreme Court to consider the case, but the court has not yet made a decision on whether it will hear arguments in the matter.
In oral arguments Wednesday, attorney Colin Bell, representing Adair, said the appellate division required DeMarzo to make a choice, mayor or police officer.
“There is no Door No. 3. There is no Option C,” Bell said.
Bell said the city did not enforce the appellate division’s ruling, so Adair, a resident and police officer, decided to pursue the matter.
He said the mayor’s decision to place himself on the layoff list was a way to skirt around the appellate ruling rather than helping the city’s financial standing.
“The city’s not saving any money by laying him off,” Bell said.
City solicitor Daniel Gallagher, who previously represented DeMarzo in the matter, argued that DeMarzo, by placing himself on the city’s layoff list, did follow the ruling.
“All they said was he had to make a choice, and he did,” Gallagher said. “He made the decision, and it wasn’t secret.”
Armstrong also ruled that Gallagher was disqualified from representing the city and DeMarzo in this particular litigation because of his previous representation of DeMarzo.
Prior to the ruling Wednesday, city labor counsel William Blaney told Armstrong that there is a distinction between being laid off and retiring or resigning from a police job.
If DeMarzo retired or resigned, he could go on a regular re-employment list to avoid taking another civil-service exam if he wanted to return to work for the city.
If DeMarzo is laid off, he would be placed on a “special re-employment list” and being on that list would put him ahead of people on the regular re-employment list.
Being laid off would also place him on what is known as a list that allows officers who have been laid off for economic reasons to go to another department without having to take a civil-service exam again.
After the judge’s written order was distributed, Bell said he believed the judge made the right decision.
“Mr. DeMarzo has failed to comply with the order for far too long and the city’s other commissioners failed to live up to their obligations. Thus it was left to Mr. Adair to do what the city should have done.”
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