HILLSIDE, NJ — Hillside Mayor Angela Garretson has been hit with a harassment complaint by township attorney Farrah Irving, who filed a report with the Hillside Police Department on July 24, soon after the Hillside council’s caucus meeting ended.
Garretson allegedly walked into the meeting late and started handing out copies of Hillside’s 2017 employee handbook for council members to review.
According to Councilman-at-large Sip Whitaker, Garretson gave council members the handbook to review during the meeting for approval by resolution during the same meeting. The state’s deadline for the book’s approval by the council was set for July 25, the following day.
LocalSource has obtained audio and video of the meeting in its entirety through an Open Public Records request.
At the July 24 meeting, when Garretson stepped to the microphone and asked council members to vote on the handbook, despite it not being listed on the evening’s agenda, council President Andrea Hyatt attempted to stop Garretson from interrupting the meeting.
“I’m asking you to be respectful,” Hyatt told the mayor at the meeting. “We’re moving forward with the meeting. This is something we can discuss in closed session.”
But just moments after Garretson left the microphone, she returned and attempted once more to get council members to vote on the handbook.
Hyatt admonished Garretson for providing the handbook 30 minutes into the meeting and expecting the council to vote on it.
“We’re going to move forward with the meeting as it is listed on the agenda,” Hyatt said. When Garretson continued to talk over Hyatt, the council president banged her gavel loudly and shouted for the mayor to be quiet.
A motion was put forth to vote on the handbook by Hillside 2nd Ward Councilman Christopher Mobley, and seconded by Hillside Councilman-at-large Sip Whitaker. Three council members voted “no” on the motion, while two others abstained.
Video of the meeting shows Irving exchanging words with Garretson at the conclusion of the meeting.
According to the police report, “Ms. Irving stated that while she was working at the township meeting the mayor began to text her trying to get her to have the meeting come to an end. Ms. Irving believes the mayor was doing this because she knew that a vote was about to occur that would not go in her favor. Ms. Irving advised the mayor that she would not bring the meeting to an end.”
According to the report, Garretson then began harassing and taunting Irving.
“After the meeting, the mayor began to berate Ms. Irving, stating she was ‘not doing her job and what she told her to do,’” the report states. “The mayor then stated that she was going to suspend her as well. Ms. Irving began to walk away from Mayor Garretson, however the mayor began to follow her around and started taunting her. Ms. Irving stated this has been an ongoing issue with the mayor.”
Garretson did not provide LocalSource with a comment regarding the allegations in the police report by press time this week.
Irving did not respond to a request for comment.
According to Hillside business administrator Ray Hamlin, Garretson requested consideration of the resolution by the council and sought Irving’s assistance.
“Unfortunately, Ms. Irving, after speaking with the council president, did not attempt to have the matter placed before the full council as the mayor requested,” Hamlin told LocalSource in a July 28 email. “As a result, the mayor requested that the CFO or myself or Ms. Irving bring the issue up to the council at the meeting.”
According to Hamlin, it was he who requested that the information be considered by the council and the mayor. After the issue was addressed by the council and after the council made a motion to go into closed session, said Hamlin, the mayor expressed her concerns to township of Hillside Chief Financial Officer Faheem Ra’Oof that he did not raise the issue, and in doing so, mentioned that Irving had not raised the issue either.
“By then I walked away to speak to a resident,” Hamlin said. “It was at that juncture, from what I understand, that Ms. Irving apparently did not like the mayor’s comments about her not raising the issue. From there, as I understand, Ms. Irving expressed some concerns which prompted me to speak to her in private.”
Hamlin said he had read the police report, calling it “completely erroneous” as it relates to the meeting and the mayor’s desire to end it.
“There was a desire on the part of the mayor to have a resolution considered,” Hamlin said. “There was never any request or suggestion to end the meeting. Of note is the fact that the township attorney has no authority to request or have a council meeting come to an end.”
Councilman Whitaker told LocalSource he had seconded the motion because the handbook was due the next day and it would have cleared away one of the township’s violations cited by the state. LocalSource reported on township violations in February, after the state Department of Community Affairs put Hillside on notice regarding an audit report listing a laundry list of issues going back to 2015.
“The bottom line is we must do what’s right for Hillside,” Whitaker said in a recent phone interview, adding that he had looked through the handbook during the meeting. “I thought it was very fair to employees,” he said of the book.
According to Whitaker, once the motion was made and seconded, questions on the motion must be considered — something he said Hyatt failed to address.
“Council President Hyatt was very unprofessional,” he said. “She never called for questions; council members never had a chance to ask questions. You don’t go straight to a vote. Yes, we know the mayor was late, but when council members don’t abide by the rules, the residents suffer.”
Councilman-at-large George “Tony” Alston, who voted against approving the handbook, told LocalSource that there was not enough time to read through the handbook and vote on it.
“I can’t accept that,” Alston said in a recent phone interview. “You’re talking about people’s livelihoods. These are life-changing things. You can’t just skim through it while the meeting is going on.”