The Princeton Borough Council is slated to approve appointees to a joint transition task force at a 7:30 p.m. special meeting tonight. The Princeton Township Committee selected its members at the Township’s reorganization meeting at the start of the month.
Borough officials originally expected to vote on task force members last week, but the Borough’s lawyer said the selection process for candidates likely violated the state’s Open Public Meetings Act, also known as the Sunshine Law.
Before the new year, council members Jenny Crumiller, Jo Butler and Kevin Wilkes met to review the resumes of the 30 people who applied to be on the task force and select finalists to interview. They invited Mayor-Elect Yina Moore and Councilwoman-Elect Heather Howard to join them, and held the meeting in private, thinking it did not violate the Sunshine Law because the two new officials had not been sworn in yet.
But Borough lawyer Maeve Cannon of Hill Wallack expressed her concerns to the council about the meeting and said she had also discussed the issue with Township Lawyer Ed Schmierer.
Borough Mayor Yina Moore said the subcommittee met over the holidays to move the process along.
“Both Councilwoman-elect Howard and myself as mayor-elect were invited to attend,” Moore said. “I’ve since been advised by our attorney that by virtue of having been present and having reviewed documents or a process we ultimately will have been able to vote on, we therefore may have been in error of the Open Public Meetings Act.”
Councilman Roger Martindell raised objections about the selection process in general and questioned whether it violated the Sunshine Law. Some fellow council members countered that he agreed to the process before the subcommittee met.
Council members spent almost 45 minutes at the start of the meeting last week debating whether they could go in to closed session to discuss the selection of task force members. But Cannon warned them that the item did not fall under personnel because no formal committee had been created yet. Personnel items are one of the issues a public body can discuss in closed session.
The council members also argued at length over whether to interview more candidates or just the eight finalists selected by the subcommittee.
“The names we obtained, the interviews conducted, and the information before us came to us through a tarnished procedure,” Martindell said of the Sunshine Law violation, also arguing that the group’s selection process was too narrow and a few other candidates should be considered.
“Our attorney just said by virtue of meeting and discussing this in public we have corrected the situation, Butler countered.
“We have arbitrarily, unreasonably, and capriciously chosen eight people and barred anyone else,” Martindell said of the process. “I can think of five or six more people I would add to the interview list.”
Crumiller said all the council members had the opportunity to review resumes and provide their input. “All the candidates are supremely qualified,” she said of the applicant pool.
Council members said they were looking for task force members who would form a diverse team, work well together, and contribute expertise in areas like budgets and human resources. Borough residency was a qualification.
Martindell challenged why candidates had to be residents. He also questioned why candidates with ties to Princeton University were eliminated.
Members of the subcommittee said Princeton University officials will have opportunities to give feedback to the task force. They also said people not chosen for the task force can serve on subcommittees. Some applicants asked to only be considered for subcommittees.
None of the Republicans who applied to be on the task force were selected as finalists. One official who participated in the selection claimed it was a coincidence and party affiliation was not considered.
Half the council voted to only consider the eight finalists already chosen, while half voted to open the process again. Crumiller, Butler and Howard voted not to reopen the process. Council President Barbara Trelstad, Wilkes, and Martindell voted to reopen the process. The mayor broke the tie, siding with the group that did not want the process reopened.
After lengthy debate, the council agreed that three members would review the finalists before tonight’s meeting and then present a slate for the council’s approval.
The council will select three task force members and one alternate. Finalists for the task force are: Alexi Assmus, Hendricks Davis, Mark Freda, Adrienne Kreipke, James Levine W. Bradford Middlekauff, Patrick Simon, and Bruce Topolosky.