WILDWOOD - A city police officer filed a lawsuit Monday asking the courts to enforce an order that requires Mayor Gary DeMarzo to choose between serving as mayor or working as a police officer.
The lawsuit filed by Police Lt. Richard Adair claims that DeMarzo’s failure to follow a Feb. 22 court order has caused his loss of “confidence in the good faith and honesty of Wildwood government and its elected officials.”
Adair, a Wildwood resident and a police officer since 1987, is asking a judge to compel DeMarzo to immediately choose one position as the court order required. The lawsuit also argues that every official action taken by DeMarzo since the court’s 20-day deadline, which was March 15, should be invalidated.
Superior Court Judge Valerie Armstrong has scheduled a hearing in the matter for Wednesday in Atlantic City.
DeMarzo had no comment on the matter Monday, said Greta Mattessich, a press agent for the city from Mint Communications.
Attorney Colin Bell, representing Adair, said he has asked the judge to place temporary restraints on DeMarzo, prohibiting him from acting as mayor or commissioner until the case is resolved.
DeMarzo, 43, has been a full-time police officer since Feb. 10, 1998.
He was elected to the Wildwood Board of Commissioners in May 2007 and became mayor Dec. 14, 2009. He took an unpaid leave of absence from his job as a police officer and was allowed to hold both roles under court rulings that restricted his participation in the city’s operations related to the Police Department and other areas.
The issue has gone to court at least three times, beginning with a lawsuit filed by then Mayor Ernie Triano Jr. and Commissioner Bill Davenport shortly after DeMarzo took office.
Troiano and Davenport, arguing on behalf of the city, said the restraints placed on DeMarzo did not address the conflicts between the two positions. On Feb. 22, an appellate court agreed.
“The trial court erred in permitting DeMarzo to continue to hold two incompatible public offices in the same municipality,” the court wrote in a lengthy opinion.
The appellate court said judicial restrictions placed on DeMarzo “deprived the citizens of Wildwood of an independent city commissioner capable of managing the municipality’s business unfettered by personal conflicts arising from his position as a police officer.”
The appellate court ruled DeMarzo must choose one position.
“DeMarzo has 20 days from the date of this opinion to choose whether he wants to retain the appointed office of Wildwood police officer or give up that office and retain the elected office of commissioner. DeMarzo shall communicate his choice in writing directly to the Board of Commissioners within the specified timeframe,” the appellate court wrote.
DeMarzo, however, has yet to choose. He filed a stay of the court’s Feb. 22 ruling, but that application was denied.
He also filed a petition for certification with the state’s Supreme Court, requesting the court hear the case. That petition is pending, said Tammy Kendig, spokeswoman for the New Jersey Judiciary, on Monday afternoon.
DeMarzo, the city’s commissioner of revenue and finance, did place his name on the city’s layoff list along with four other police officers. But in his lawsuit, Adair said being on the layoff list would not satisfy the court’s requirements because officers who are laid off are entitled to “non-competitive re-employment as a police officer at a future date.”
In an April 5 letter to the state’s Civil Service Commission, city Personnel Director Gordon Ball wrote, “I am well-aware of the fact that there is no voluntary layoff program in the state of New Jersey. I notified Mayor DeMarzo of this fact when he directed me to put his name on the list. He directed me to do it anyway; however he ... feels it is up to the state to tell him this.”
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