BRIDGETON — Organizers of a movement to oust Vineland’s mayor will get more time to collect signatures on their recall petitions, Superior Court Richard Geiger ruled Thursday.
The Committee to Recall Mayor Ruben Bermudez now has until Aug. 19 – or 75 days – to submit their recall petitions to the Vineland City Clerk’s Office, he ruled.
Geiger said the committee was hampered in meeting the original May 19 deadline by a part of state law that required recall petitions to be circulated only by registered voters who live in an area where a recall will occur. That law was deemed unconstitutional in a Superior Court ruling out of Monmouth County in March, with the finding supported by the state Attorney General’s Office.
“The certifications submitted in this matter are that there were difficulties in having volunteers come forward,” Geiger said. “I think there is an adequate record in this matter for the court to find that there was an adverse impact on (the committee’s) ability to obtain and amass the necessary number of signatures because of the voter registration requirement.”
Bermudez, who attended the hearing with his attorney, M. Lou Garty, in an attempt to thwart the committee’s request for more time to collect signatures, declined comment after the proceedings in the Cumberland County courthouse here ended. Garty did not respond to questions posed by reporters.
The committee had 160 days, or until May 19, to submit recall petitions signed by 9,447 of the city’s registered voters in order to force a recall election. That figure represents 25 percent of the city’s registered voters.
Testimony in court on Thursday indicated the committee had petitions bearing 5,119 signatures. There are apparently other petitions in circulation that contain anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 more signatures, according to testimony. The Vineland City Clerk’s Office must eventually certify that all the collected signatures belong to residents properly registered to vote in Vineland.
Garty argued on Thursday that the committee’s legal request to the court for more time was incomplete, as it did not contain the appropriate certification from the committee. She further argued that the committee may have violated state law by beginning the recall process before it was legally allowed to do so under state law. That violation involved the creation of a recall website in September, two months before the committee could begin its recall actions, she said.
Garty also charged that the committee’s request for more time was last-minute and likely motivated by their failure to obtain all the necessary signatures.
“This just looks, smells and tastes like a do-over,” she said.
In answer to some of Garty’s arguments, Geiger replied, “So?”
“I think the plaintiff is entitled to a remedy in this matter,” he said.
Geiger emailed his ruling on the 75 days to all involved attorneys after court adjourned for the day. The 75 days is not the full 160 days that committee attorney Alexander Wazeter requested of Geiger during Thursday’s hearing.
“I don’t know how your honor can give them a remedy for part of the 160 days,” Wazeter said. “If you were to give us that difference in time, that would be such an incomplete remedy to be ineffective. It would not be consistent with notions of fairness.”
The recall petitions contain statements from both the recall committee and Bermudez.
The committee’s statement reads that “we feel Mayor Bermudez has neglected his sworn duties, exhibited gross misuse of office, and has shown incompetence in the performance of his duties of mayor which has had an adverse effect upon the city and citizens of Vineland.”
Bermudez’s statement on the petition reads, in part, “The people distributing this petition are lying and cannot be trusted. Mayor Bermudez is a competent mayor and has done nothing wrong, nothing illegal and/or nothing immoral. Your mayor is only trying to change the inefficient & ineffective organization he inherited, and the ‘good old boys network” trying to stop him. Don’t be fooled! By signing this recall petition you’re supporting wasteful, self-interest, business as usual in Vineland.”
Should the movement lead to a recall election, voters will get to pick who will serve as mayor.
Former Mayor Robert Romano and former City Council and Board of Education candidate David Mazur have said they would run for mayor.
Bermudez was elected mayor in December 2013 in a runoff election that denied Romano a second consecutive term.
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