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Mayor Jardim Removes Councilwoman Vernick As Committee Chairwoman

By PAUL J. PEYTON

Specially Written for The Westfield Leader

Mayor Thomas C. Jardim last week removed First Ward Councilwoman Gail S. Vernick as Chairwoman of the council’s Transportation, Parking and Traffic Committee, questioning her leadership qualities. While the Mayor defended the action, Mrs. Vernick deemed her removal as chairwoman as "blatantly political" for her stance on the now withdrawn amendment to the town’s liquor ordinance regarding restaurant bars.

Councilwoman Vernick was replaced by Fourth Ward Councilman Donnell Carr. Mr. Carr asked for Mrs. Vernick’s support and help during the leadership transition. Councilwoman Vernick will continue to serve on the committee.

Reading from a prepared statement during the committee reports part of Tuesday night’s council agenda meeting, Councilwoman Vernick said she was singled out for "my leadership position in informing the residents of Westfield about the ordinance to end the conditional liquor licenses." The ordinance, which was withdrawn last week, would have amended the restaurant conditional license in town to allow the holders of such licenses to add patron bars.

The ordinance was withdrawn by the Democrats on the council, a move fully supported by the Republican majority, after the four Republicans who were to vote on the matter announced at a briefing that they would be voting against the ordinance. Councilwoman Vernick and Councilman Norman N. Greco, both representing the First Ward, had been against the ordinance from the get go, but Second Ward Councilman James J. Gruba and Third Ward Councilman Neil F. Sullivan, Jr. announced at the briefing that they were changing their votes.

Mayor Jardim said the removal of Mrs. Vernick as a committee chairwoman was made prior to and not based on her statements regarding the liquor ordinance. He said if he were looking to make a political statement he would have taken action against Mr. Gruba and Mr. Sullivan, which he did not.

Councilwoman Vernick said in her statement, a copy of which was obtained by The Westfield Leader, that "this mid-year change is unprecedented in our town, and is frankly the type of partisan politics that both Democrats and Republicans in Westfield have always avoided."

In his memorandum, dated May 22, two days after the liquor license ordinance was withdrawn, to the councilwoman, Mayor Jardim cited two reasons for his action. The first was the planning of a meeting of the committee by Mrs. Vernick for 11:30 a.m. on a Wednesday. The Mayor said, given that it was a workday, making it very difficult for committee members Mr. Sullivan and Councilman Lawrence A. Goldman to attend, he found the setting of the meeting to be "extremely disrespectful" of the committee members.

Councilwoman Vernick said the meeting was set at that time in order for Town Administrator Edward A. Gottko to be in attendance. She said Mr. Gottko was only available at that time during the particular week the meeting was planned. She said when it was learned the other committee members could not attend, she changed the meeting date to the following Monday at 7 p.m.

Mayor Jardim said, "I think this is the first time a committee chairman has scheduled a meeting without talking to other committee members."

The other reason cited by the Mayor was a letter by Mrs. Vernick which appeared in last week’s Leader. He said the letter, regarding the liquor ordinance, included an incorrect statement that he had spoken in favor of the change in the liquor law while speaking before the Westfield/Mountainside Ministerium Association. Mayor Jardim stated in his letter to Mrs. Vernick that he had said repeatedly that he had not made up his mind on the issue at that meeting "and that my purpose for being there was to engage in a meaningful dialogue about, and get feedback on, the proposed changes."

"I’m looked at as the leader of town government and it (the councilwoman’s actions) is something I don’t want to see under my watch," he said. "It is not the kind of leadership I want to see generated" on the council.

Councilwoman Vernick said of her statements on the liquor ordinance, "people are allowed to have a difference of opinion and change their opinions if they so choose. We should be able to disagree on issues without retaliation."

In addition to his new committee chairmanship, Councilman Carr was assigned as a member of the Personnel and Policy Committee and Public Works/Solid Waste Committees. He was also named to the school board Liaison Committee, replacing Mayor Jardim. He will serve as Council Liaison to PANDA (Preventing Alcohol, Narcotics, and Drug Abuse), replacing Mr. Greco who asked to be replaced due to his own time constraints.

Mayor Jardim also named Councilman Greco, his Mayoral opponent last year, as First Alternate Acting Mayor.

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10/25/97.

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