ROSELLE PARK, NJ — Mayor Joe Signorello said he continues to support a proposed ordinance that would relax local pay-to-play rules over objections from some Borough Council members and residents who say it could put local politicians in the pocket of businesses who want to work in the borough.
Ordinance No. 2563, which would repeal Ordinance No. 2395, was introduced at the Jan. 17 council meeting by a 4-3 vote. If it passes on the second reading scheduled for the Feb. 7, the ordinance would replace one of the strictest sets of pay-for-play rules in the county.
Under the rules governing pay-to-play, which refers to the practice of for-profit businesses contributing to political campaigns of individuals or groups from which they have sought, or are seeking, government contracts. A maximum of $200 can be contributed to a political campaign during an election cycle in the borough.
Councilman Joseph DeIorio said at the meeting that under the proposed ordinance, $2,600 could be contributed to a candidate’s committee, $7,200 to a political committee and $37,000 to a county-level political committee.
In a Jan. 27 phone interview with LocalSource, Signorello said the views expressed at the Jan. 17 meeting by the three Republican members of the council — DeIorio, William Fahoury and Jayme Lynn Negron — and some residents did not change his stance “in the slightest.”
“I think there’s a vocal minority in town,” the mayor said. “And to be frank with you, a lot of those folks who showed up at that meeting to speak against it, and after hearing my arguments for repealing it, said, ‘I have no comment here that I have to give. I understand the value of this and the value of why you guys are making this choice.’”
Signorello said the new pay-for-play ordinance is designed to bring the borough’s guidelines in line with the state’s. He said the current ordinance is “constrictive” and “confusing,” and the process of streamlining it will benefit the borough.
“Part of the problem we’ve had, as a borough, is getting the best professionals here in town,” Signorello said.
“Repealing this ordinance and bringing us in line with state standards ends that confusion and allows us to bring in professionals from across Union County, from across the state to make sure we have the best professionals working for Roselle Park.”
DeIorio, Fahoury and Negron, however, disagree, and Fahoury asked how money “infiltrating” the borough’s political process would help residents.
“The companies, contractors and lawyers, they could, the best ones, could still come to Roselle Park if they don’t contribute,” Negron said. “So, if they really wanted our business, then they would know how strict our laws are and they would know not to contribute to political party or candidate if they really wanted a job. But this makes it so they could donate a lot of money to one person or one party and then say, ‘Well, he’ll hire me because I just dropped $5,000 in his campaign.’”
DeIorio said it’s the taxpayers who will ultimately pay when companies and professionals pay to play in the borough.
“They are going to charge us more,” he said. “So, there is no way you can substantially argue that we’re going to get better people because they are going to fill the pockets of politicians and political campaigns and that’s going to make things better for Roselle Park.”
Fahoury said at the Feb. 7 meeting, “we’ll have another opportunity to stop this.”
He said he hopes that public comment can stop Signorello and his fellow Democrats on the council — Joseph Petrosky, Michael Connelly and Robert Mathieu — from adopting the ordinance.
“Myself, Councilman DeIorio and Councilwoman Negron can only do so much,” Fahoury said in a phone interview on Jan. 28. “We need people of Roselle Park who are against this to come out, email, call the mayor, call his colleagues on council and say, ‘Hey, we don’t want this. We don’t think is good for Roselle Park.’”
Two members of the public spoke out against changing the borough’s pay-for-play rules at the Jan. 17 meeting.
“I think most of the concern is what happens when you start taking large donations is that the government becomes beholden to the donator and not to the people,” Larry Leone said. “I think that’s a lot of the passion you’re seeing tonight is that the town is worried.”
And attendee Rob Domanski said, “I can’t express enough I think this is a terrible idea. The purpose of the pay-to-play rules are to reduce the possibility of corruption.
“This should be a bipartisan, in fact, even a nonpartisan kind of issue to leave these rules in place. They have been demonstrated nationally that they work very well.”