Deadpoll 3: The Democrats’ Seeming Rockaway Strategy and other Dysfunctions

ROCKAWAY TOWNSHIP – Angry crowds at meetings. Lawsuits. Calls for the state Attorney General to investigate. Nasty social media comments. All in all, it’s a pretty dysfunctional state of affairs in one of Morris County's largest towns.

It makes you wonder why anyone would want to be mayor of this town.

And what is even more amazing considering the ongoing political animosity is that Democrats and Republicans are supporting the same man.

The lucky fellow – we think – is current GOP councilman Mike Puzio, who recently retired from the Morris County’s Sheriff”s Office. Puzio is in line to replace the late Michael Dachisen, who died last month.

How did this happen?

The view here is simple politics combined with a very puzzling decision by local Democrats.

Let’s start with Republicans, of which there are two factions on the council.

There’s the five-person council majority headed by Council President Jeremy Jedynak and the other Republicans on the council, one of whom is Puzio.

To say there is bad blood here is putting it mildly. Keep in mind that when Dachisen died. the council majority and the mayor were figuratively at each other’s throat and literally in court.

The council majority doesn’t like Puzio, but, alas, picking a mayoral candidate is not their decision. The council does select an interim mayor; it did that last week when it picked former councilman Paul Minenna. The interim mayor better not get too comfortable. His stay in office ends after the Nov. 6 election.

Selecting the mayoral candidate was the job of the township members of the county Republican Committee.

County committee members tend to be insiders. As such, they don’t like challenges to the status quo. And the council majority is doing precisely that by opposing taxpayer funded health benefits for part-time councilmembers and supporting more transparency in the budget process.

So, it was not surprising that GOP committee members would pick Puzio as their mayoral candidate. After all, he is not aligned with what detractors call the “vile five.”

That explains the Republicans’ thinking.

But what are Democrats up to?

Missing an opportunity is the view here.

Township Republicans are in great disarray. Combine that with the fact all indications are that this election cycle will be a good one for Democrats. So, should not township, and for that matter, Morris County Democrats seek to maximize their opportunity?

Why support a Republican?

Now, there are some other factors involved here.

Puzio attracted attention last month when he endorsed Democrat Mikie Sherrill for Congress in the 11th District. Maybe Democrats think they owe him a favor? That may seem plausible, but you have to remember that soon after his Sherrill endorsement, Puzio was hired in Democratic-run Parsippany as a school resource officer. That reward seems good enough, no?

Perhaps Democrats think Puzio will switch parties if elected. Fat chance of that happening. Republicans will still control the council no matter what Puzio does. So why switch?

Township Democrats say on their Facebook page that endorsing Puzio could bring bipartisanship to the community and put the township “above party.”

Democrats remain the minority party in the township and in Morris County. So, how much can bipartisanship help them?  

It seems counterproductive for Dems in Rockaway Township to pass up a chance to capitalize on the Republicans’ inner strife by running their own candidate for mayor. In fact, it’s irresponsible.

To use a sports analogy, Democrats are not playing to win. 

And that should upset loyal Democrats throughout Morris County. 

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2 responses to “Deadpoll 3: The Democrats’ Seeming Rockaway Strategy and other Dysfunctions”

  1. Yeah…because as we all know, it’s not about doing the right thing, or what’s best for the town. Politics is about playing the game – our team vs your team – winning or losing at all costs. And that, kids, is how America got into the state it’s in today.

  2. Fred – used to love reading your column in the Daily Record – you never hesitated to swing a stick at sacred hornet nests. However, you don’t have the entire story. This is not a case of Ds vs. Rs or any other political affiliation. The cooperation in the recall campaign is multi-lateral – every party affiliation including “unaffiliated;” arguably there are more Rs opposing Jedynak than Ds.

    The council majority has been trying to usurp the mayor’s administrative authority since January 2018. Initially, one of the newly elected Ds sided with the council majority to name Jedynack council president. Then the majority turned on him resulting in the current alignment of 2 Rs and 2 Ds against 5 Rs.

    Before Republican Mayor Mike Daschisen died last month, he was forced to sue the council to block the overreach of CP Jedynak. Not only had Councilman Kelley (again) lost his private suit to terminate the mayor’s and one councilman’s grandfathered health benefits, but also the council majority had ordered the town’s attorney, John Iaciofano, to stop defending Daschisen against Kelley’s suit. That was a clear violation of Iaciofano’s responsibility to defend township employees against civil suits.

    When Kelley lost his most recent bid to terminate Dachisen’s benefits, the majority then launched a criminal investigation of the township attorney and the business administrator for “theft of services” – supporting Daschisen against Kelley’s private litigation. One result of that endeavor was the departure of the business administrator coupled with his official notice that he would sue the township for slander.

    The council majority claims it has promoted transparency and has saved the township upwards of $1 million cut from the 2018 budget. In fact, the only thing they did was rebate money in the surplus account which had not yet been spent. The majority ignored the need to hire two more public safety officers with the ancillary expenses associated with the police academy. The money “saved” will now have to be added to the 2019 budget or taken out of remaining surplus. That in addition to the outrageous legal and “security” costs run up by the majority since January.

    The majority has also attempted to skirt the plain letter of the law as well as its spirit by replacing the township attorney with a politically connected, but ethically challenged attorney most recently rejected by Parsippany amid accusations of self-dealing, over-billing, non-transparency and bribery. That episode cost Parsippany its majority Republican council edge as well as its Republican mayor.

    There are numerous other objections to the council majority’s lack of transparency, violation of OPMA notice laws, changing prior meeting minutes to reflect what the council wished they had done instead of what actually happened, late and mis-leading meeting notices, ejection of citizens from township meetings for expressing opinions differing from the majority’s narrative, etc. Two recent egregious episodes include the council president ordering up police security for himself at a recent children’s pep rally, despite the total lack of credible threat and the positioning of dozens of public safety officers from surrounding jurisdictions as well as 20 of our own in and around township hall and vicinity during the hastily called, inadequately noticed and illegal 10:30 pm Friday meeting.

    Bottom line – this is not a case of Ds against Rs. There is no “opportunity” being squandered by local D organizations because this is not a political squabble. It is widespread apolitical opposition to an immature and inexperienced council president attempting to exceed the authority granted him under the Faulkner Act by intruding on the authority of the administrative branch. It is about lack of transparency, wasteful spending of taxpayer’s dollars on “connected” attorneys, opposing both the will of the people and the letter of the law. Thank you

    PS – I am a registered Republican voter of many decades; I’m proud to work alongside many other registered Rs, Ds, Independents and others. The controversy will not end until CP Jedynak has resigned or been recalled together with his “connected” attorney and any other council member of any party who has cooperated in this expensive charade.

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