Joseph Longo is gone from the township governing body.
He says he’s a casualty of sniping and snooping by people out to nail him.
Be that as it may, his colleagues on the Belleville Township Council voted unanimously to remove him from office by vacating his seat, as proposed by Councilman-at-large Kevin Kennedy.
For the past few months, Longo has participated in council sessions remotely through a special phone connection – a procedure the governing body sanctioned by ordinance this past spring.
For the past couple of weeks, rumors had swirled around the Municipal Building that Longo – who was elected to a 3-year term as an at-large council member in the 2014 municipal election – would be resigning.
Critics griped that Longo was no longer living in New Jersey, that he’d put his house up for sale and that communicating twice a month by phone – reportedly from Florida – was not really participating in local government.
On Sept. 19, the Township Clerk’s office received a letter dated Sept. 5 from Longo informing the Clerk, Kelly Cavanaugh, “As you are aware my employer has reassigned me to South Florida. I have decided to accept the position permanently. Therefore unfortunately I must tender my resignation effect[ive] on Oct. 31, 2017.
“It has been my great honor to serve the residents of Belleville and I wish my colleagues on the council continued success as you govern our beloved Belleville.”
Then, as the Sept. 26 meeting of the Township Council was proceeding, Cavanaugh announced the receipt of a new communication – addressed to addressed to township attorney Tom Murphy, township manager Mauro Tucci and herself – from Longo requesting to, “Please amend my resignation effective Sept. 25, 2017.”
But, even while Murphy was trying to explain the law as it relates to Longo’s situation, an impatient Councilman Kennedy pressed for a vote on his resolution to vacate Longo’s seat and it passed.
“It was time,” Kennedy told The Observer last week when asked the reason for his action.“[Longo’s] permanently in Florida.
“The attorney [Murphy] says he’s allowed to stay [on the council] eight weeks and then he can be removed. But [the situation] is just drawing too much attention so, in a way, the people criticizing [Longo] were right.”
Murphy told The Observer last week it’s his understanding that the council can appoint someone on an interim basis to fill Longo’s unexpired term within 30 days of the time his seat is vacated – whatever date that’s determined to be.
Longo’s term runs through June 30, 2018. Theoretically, he could run for re-election in the May 2018 municipal contest.
Or, failing council action on an interim appointment, a special election could be scheduled – within certain time parameters – not readily known to Murphy.
Kennedy was asked if council members had considered a possible interim replacement for Longo. “It hasn’t been discussed,” he said.
Longo, reached via his cell phone last week, told The Observer that he was working as an outside salesman for Staples when, in April, he was offered the job of national sales representative” for the company, dealing with the commercial printing industry.
That position, he said, was “based in Florida.”
He said he started the new job on a probationary basis and, at the same time, “I put my house [in Belleville] up for sale,” while renting lodgings in Florida in the Boca Raton area. And he alerted Mayor Ray Kimble he wouldn’t be seeking re-election.
Around Labor Day, Longo said, his employer offered him the job on a permanent basis and he accepted because “it’s the right move for me and my family.”
That’s when he sent his letter of resignation, Longo said, listing an Oct. 31 end date “to give my colleagues notice and the opportunity and time to prepare themselves for an interim [replacement].”
Meanwhile, Longo said, “people in Belleville were stalking me … posting my whereabouts, what I’m doing on Facebook …people out there that are not big fans of elected officials, I guess…. People who called my employer to find out what my address was … make up stories about me….”
“Because I could see these agitators planned to make a big deal,” and, “to avoid a circus,” he said he asked the township “to amend my [resignation] date so [the council] could focus on the business they had to do.”
Asked if he regretted his experience on the council – when early on, he was targeted by a short-lived “investigation committee” reviewing past practices by a deficit-ridden Board of Education on which he’d served before running for the council — Longo said: “No, I appreciate the opportunity to have served. I came to really get a good relationship with the mayor and the council. Over the last year and a half or so, whatever disagreements we had, we were able to work them out. And, during that time, I tried to support what I thought was in the best interests of the township, like a lot of our development projects, especially Cortlandt St., and I was very proud that I was part of the hiring of Mauro Tucci as township manager. He brings a strong, powerful experience to the township – he knows how to do his job and do it incredibly well. Tom Murphy is giving great advice on development issues. I’m extremely proud that Mark Minichini is our police chief and I’m told that Kevin Esposito is one of the top guys in the state in our tax department.”