Ruben Bermudez recall, Vineland, New Jersey (2014)

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An effort to recall Mayor Ruben Bermudez in Vineland, New Jersey from his position was launched in November 2013. Bermudez took office in 2012 after defeating former mayor Robert Romano in a runoff election. He was elected to a four-year term. Bermudez is accused of neglect of sworn duties, “gross misuse of office” and “incompetence.”[1]

The recall special election is estimated to cost the city $85,000.[2]

Recall supporters

"As a mayor, he's not doing his job, he’s just not doing what he promised, he’s not doing his job at all. There’s no open door policy. Everything has gone downhill since Mayor Bermudez came into office," said Tami Harold of the “Committee to Recall Mayor Ruben Bermudez.” The committee also points to questionable spending and cronyism.[3]

Bermudez' response

Bermudez issued the following response in November 2013:[4]

It disappoints me to read that a small segment of the Vineland community is attempting a politically motivated recall effort. I not yet received official notice, but based on what has been reported, the claims are totally bogus and so generalized that any thoughtful, critical-thinking person could easily determine that recall is totally baseless and absolutely lacking merit or substance. Not surprisingly, the Recall Committee is comprised of individuals that did not support me for mayor and are simply being used as puppets for a much larger political agenda. For the committee itself, this is just a matter of ‘sour grape’ politics and a chance at 15 minutes of fame.

It comes as no shock that my political enemies are introducing this recall at this time since I am involved in two critical efforts that have shaken the Vineland status quo. Clearly, this hastened recall effort is nothing more that an attempt at distracting the public from the fact that I have touched a sensitive political nerve. Specifically, the issues that seemed to have moved this group to action are as follow:

1) Landis Theater — I am calling on the City Council to continue the investigation into the Landis Theater project initiated by the previous administration. Perhaps just coincidence, but it was not until I started to move on the continuation of the Landis investigation that I encounter strong immediate resistance inside City Hall — at the highest levels — and outside.

2) Removal of a department head — I am involved in removing the department head of the Law Department because I — as the mayor and client — have lost confidence in his professional advice. I also believe that it is time to make substantive changes in Vineland City Hall in order to change the organizational culture. It is important to note that when the head of the Law Department was initially appointed by me as mayor, he offered his word as a gentleman and a legal professional that he would resign at anytime for whatever reason if I — as the mayor — requested it. I did just that; I requested his resignation in front of witnesses, but he refused and went back on his word, leaving me no other choice but to immediately relieve him of his duties and move to terminate pursuant to the Faulkner Act and consistent with the Professional Code of Standards.

To my detractors that suggest that my administration is not transparent, it is important to understand that both issues above require a high degree of confidentiality at this time as (1) concerns itself with an ongoing investigation(s), and the other (2) is a personnel matter, which are understandably precluded from being discussed in an open forum. Discussing either one in detail could be a violation of law.

In closing, the real issue some are having with me is that I have begun to take on the morally corrupt system. I’m going to change that, but it will not be without major resistance. Vineland has to change in order to move forward. I was elected on that promise, and I will continue to do so.

A divided and polarized Vineland only serves the interests of the status quo. I urge the Vineland community to give me a chance and support my efforts and my vision for our City.

I remain strong, focused and resolute.[5]

Path to the ballot

See also: Laws governing recall in New Jersey

On November 22, 2013, a committee of five residents filed a notice of intent to recall Bermudez with the City Clerk’s office.[1] The recall committee must collect approximately 9,444 signatures, or 25 percent of registered city voters.[2][6][7]

Recall proponents planned to begin circulating petitions in early January 2014. The recall committee had previously planned to begin collecting signatures in December 2013, but delayed its efforts on account of the holiday season.[7]

The recall committee held its first public event and fundraiser on January 29, 2014.[8]

In late January 2014, it was reported that Bermudez issued a directive to city employees not to communicate with city council members without his prior approval. Although Bermudez is within his legal rights to issue such a directive, the fact that he did so highlights his contentious relationship with the council. Council President Anthony Fanucci said, "This is not good leadership from someone who says they want the city moving forward as one." Justifying his decision, Bermudez wrote in the directive, "It is imperative that the institution of government are (sic) respected and that order be maintained. To that end, all employees must follow the proper chain of command as required by policy and law."[9][10]

In early February 2014, the city council stymied an effort by Bermudez to block an investigation into alleged misconduct by the city's business administrator, William Lutz. Fanucci said, "Sadly, a series of events, all at the mayor's instigation, have only served to diminish the people's confidence in our leadership."[7]

Fanucci has insisted he will not run for mayor in the event that a recall election in scheduled. No council member belongs to the recall group and none have signed the recall petition.[7]

Bermudez appointee and former mayoral candidate David Mazur announced his resignation from the council's Planning Board on March 4, 2014, citing Bermudez' intention to reduce the number of city employees. "He's directly my boss, and I can't work for somebody that's cutting jobs," Mazur said. After announcing his resignation, Mazur signed a recall petition.[11]

According to a report by The South Jersey Times, recall proponents had collected more than 7,600 signatures as of April 14, 2014.[12]

Resident David Mazur has asked officials to suspend the recall due to alleged irregularities in the city's registered voter list. Mazur contends the list includes 1,200 inaccurate listings (including individuals listed twice, deceased individuals, etc.). Elections officials maintain that the list is accurate.[13]

The Committee to Recall Mayor Ruben Bermudez announced on May 14, 2014 that it would seek a court order to grant it an additional two months to collect signatures. The committee sought the order based on an opinion issued on March 31, 2014 that deemed as unconstitutional certain state provisions relating to petition circulator requirements (namely, state residency requirements for circulators). The attorney working on behalf of the recall committee, Alexander Wazeter, said, "That was the problem with the recall effort. They were limited with the amount of people they could use to go out and get signatures."[14]

On May 19, 2014, Cumberland County Superior Court Judge Richard Geiger extended the deadline, which had originally been set for May 19, to May 30, 2014. Bermudez filed a motion to intervene, which resulted in the hearing being delayed to June 5, 2014.[15][16] On June 5, 2014, Geiger further extended the petition deadline to August 19, 2014.[17][18]

See also

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References

  1. 1.0 1.1 The Daily Journal, "Mixed reaction on Bermudez recall effort," November 22, 2013
  2. 2.0 2.1 South Jersey Times, "Recall election of Vineland mayor would cost city $85,000," November 30, 2013
  3. NBC40, "Five Vineland residents calling for the recall of Mayor Bermudez," accessed December 3, 2013
  4. The Daily Journal, "Bermudez: Recall claims 'totally bogus'," November 24, 2013
  5. Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  6. The Daily Journal, "Vineland mayoral recall advances," November 28, 2013
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 The Daily Journal, "Recall petitions available today," January 3, 2014
  8. The Daily Journal, "Recall supporters host fundraiser at North Italy Hall," January 31, 2014
  9. The Daily Journal, "Mayor to city employees: No talking," January 30, 2014
  10. SFGate, "NJ mayor tells city workers not to talk to council," January 31, 2014
  11. The Daily Journal, "Job-cutting plan spurs resignation," March 5, 2014
  12. NJ.com, "Petition to recall Vineland mayor Bermudez gains more than 7,600 signatures," April 14, 2014
  13. Press of Atlantic City, "Vineland resident wants mayoral recall suspended due to voter list irregularities," May 8, 2014
  14. The Daily Journal, "Recall group asks court for extension," May 14, 2014
  15. The South Jersey Times, "Vineland recall petition deadline extended, court decides," May 19, 2014
  16. NJ.com, "Vineland recall committee's hearing rescheduled after mayor's intervention," June 3, 2014
  17. The Daily Journal, "Judge: Mayor recall group gets extra 75 days," June 6, 2014
  18. Press of Atlantic City, "Judge: Vineland group has more time to collect signatures to recall mayor," June 5, 2014