Frantantoni: Planning Board Attorney’s Legal Defense of Mayor Has Evaporated

Public advocate Vincent Frantantoni continues to confront the Belleville Council on Mayor Melham’s appointment of a township employee as a Class IV member of the Planning Board, which is expressly forbidden by state law.

Under the New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law, specifically N.J.S.A. 40:55D-23(a), a municipal employee cannot be a Class IV member of a Planning Board. According to two of the foremost experts in New Jersey on land use law that we consulted, there are no exceptions whatsoever. None.

Somehow Belleville Planning Board attorney Rose Tubito knows something about land use law that no one else does.

Except, now it seems her highly questionable argument in defense of the mayor’s appointment that took her an unbelievable 4 months to produce had the shelf-life of a ripe avocado.

Here is Mr. Frantantoni’s letter, sent directly to Ms. Tubito Saturday afternoon:

Dear Ms. Tubito,

I have a copy of your opinion letter to Mayor Michael Melham, dated November 4, 2019, regarding the appointment of Ms. Jacqueline Guaman as a Class IV member of the Belleville Planning Board.

You state you have reviewed “all relevant NJ State Statutes and Belleville Municipal Ordinances that govern the appointment in question.”

You further state that in regard to Class IV members there is an exception to the rule as follows, “in the case of nine-member boards, one such member may be a member of the zoning board of adjustment or historic preservation commission.”

Your fifth paragraph states, “Because Ms. Jacky Guaman is a member of the Belleville Historic Preservation commission she may also be a class IV member of the Belleville Planning Board despite the fact that she is also a Belleville Municipal employee.”

On Monday, January 13, 2020, Ms. Guaman sent an email to the Mayor and Township Clerk resigning from the Belleville Historic Preservation Commission. Said correspondence was on the January 14, 2020 Belleville Township Council agenda.

Since Ms. Guaman is no longer a member of the Belleville Historic Commission, is it still your “professional opinion” that her position on the Belleville Planning Board is still allowable?

Please state what other “exception” you believe allows Ms. Guaman to remain on the Belleville Planning Board.

I await your professional response.

Very truly yours,

Vincent J. Frantantoni

Update: For convenience, here are a few of the relevant documents discussed above:

Legal opinion from Belleville Planning Board attorney Rose Tubito

Ms. Guaman’s letter of resignation from the Historic Preservation Committee

Note: Under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), a requestor has the right to inspect most public documents on demand. A photo was taken of the letter provided by the clerk’s office for the sake of speed, rather than waiting more than a week to receive the records under OPRA.

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Lee "Griff" Dorry - Founder, watchdog, and public advocate. ♫ They've got strings, but you can see, there are no strings on me. ♫