Valori Disqualified; James Vigilante Wins Council Seat
Councilman-elect calls his victory 'bittersweet.'
To the surprise of most observers in fully packed Town Hall Council Chambers Tuesday night, what was expected by many—the election of Dr. Louis Valori to fill newly appointed Freeholder John Cesaro's vacant Township Council seat—did not materialize.
Instead, the unexpired term seat went to James Vigilante, the former councilman and present U.S. Air Force Reservist and businessperson who, along with Valori and Julie Carifi, had been selected as nominees for the position Monday night by the Parsippany Republican Committee.
The special council session Tuesday night took a turn even before it began. Inside and outside Town Hall, people whispered rumors that Valori, a former Board of Education member and—he thought—a retired member of the Parsippany Police Department, would be disqualified from serving as an elected municipal official.
The whispers grew louder after the meeting was called to order by President Brian Stanton and then the council moved into closed session.
After a brief break, the council and Township Attorney John Inglesino reappeared, and the lawyer addressed the audience.
Inglesino explained that Valori is actually still an employee of the police department. He is on what is called "terminal leave," according to the attorney, a status for retiring employees who leave the job and opt to use up banked vacation and personal leave.
"The council can make decisions that impact the department, which creates a conflict of interest," Inglesino said, adding that he fully investigated the matter and found several examples of case law that support his position.
"He is on terminal leave, so he is not retired; he is an employee of the township," he asserted. "The township agrees that prior to retiring, an employee may use personal and vacation days.
"The key there is it establishes that prior to retiring, 'an employee may use...' It is my view that Mr. Valori is ineligible to serve as a councilman."
Inglesino said there was another issue.
John Cesaro resigned from the council on June 13, he said, and the law allows the GOP committee 15 days, or until Wednesday night, to submit three names to the council. With the disqualification of Valori, that left two names: Julie Carifi and James Vigilante. The statutory requirement is for three nominees. Failing that, the lawyer noted, the council has 15 additional days to select its own appointee.
"I spoke with the Republican committee chair Nicole Green to discuss this matter and see if she could convene another meeting," Inglesino recounted. "She said that the bylaws require 72 hours notice for an emergency meeting, and therefore it was impossible for the committee to convene another meeting.
"That being the case, it is my view that the council is able to select a person from the Republican Party to fill Mr. Cesaro's seat."
The council opted to vote. Councilman Michael dePierro nominated Vigilante.
The process—not the candidate—left a bitter taste in the mouths of many at the meeting. As the ultimately unanimous votes were being cast, even Stanton announced that his vote was a "by default, unfair yes."
Valori took the news with apparent grace, even though he had brought his entire family to the meeting and was supported by the appearance of local dignitaries and PPD officers. He walked around Council Chambers and shook the hands of nearly every person there, thanking them for coming.
Outside of chambers, Valori displayed a flash of anger as he spoke with Patch—and he aimed his comments at Mayor James Barberio.
"I got a phone call from Mr. Inglesino at 5 p.m. telling me that I was disqualified," he said. "Five p.m. Two hours before the meeting. I asked why, and he said that because I was on terminal leave until Oct. 1, I was considered a township employee."
Asked by Inglesino if he had sought legal advice, Valori said he had gone to the mayor and asked about his status to ensure that he was eligible to run for the council seat.
"Mayor Barberio was on the conference call with him," Valori noted.
"Jamie goes, 'Yeah, I talked to him about it.'
"I said, 'Yes, Mayor. I spoke to you about it in April and you came back and told me that I am eligible for running for the position when I'm on terminal leave.'
"So on May 1," he continued, "I sent a letter to the [police] chief saying I am going to be retired as of June 1, so there would not be a conflict of interest."
According to Valori, his contract reads that once someone goes on terminal leave, he or she is no longer a police officer and can no longer go back to being a police officer.
"Am I on the payroll still? Yes, but I'm no longer a police officer. That's money owed to me. Why would I have resigned June 1 when I technically can stay until Oct. 1 when I'm still part of the pension system?"
Valori said there was no reason for him to lie.
"I find it very dishonest and disingenuous to call me at five o'clock. This makes the Republican Party look very bad. It's unhealthy for the party and for the taxpayers. And I was going to give 100 percent of the [council salary] back to the town.
"The mayor lied. And that's very disappointing."
Barberio had a different view of the situation.
"I did not lie," he said. "It is not my fault that Mr. Valori did not do his due diligence. Why would he ask me about his legal status? I am not an attorney. Why didn't he ask the township attorney? He only has himself to blame."
For his part, Councilman-elect Vigilante said he agreed with Valori, whom he called his best friend.
Speaking via phone from San Diego, where he is working this week at a U.S. Navy medical center as part of his commitment to the Air Force Reserves, Vigilante called his win "bittersweet."
"I think what they did was a total injustice," he said. "Lou is one of those rare people who has both book smarts and common sense. What happened was not fair."
He said that while he is not pleased about how he ended up in the position, he is happy to be back on the Township Council.
"I have 12 years council experience, but my military experience has taught me to be open to learning new things," he said.
Vigilante will be sworn in officially after he returns to Parsippany at the end of the week.
The term lasts only until the end of 2012, according to the Morris County Clerk's Office. As part of November's general election, Parsippany voters will elect someone—perhaps Vigilante, perhaps someone else—to fill the seat until its expiration at the end of 2013.
Councilman dePierro said he also was disappointed to see Valori disqualified, especially because he had been the Parsippany GOP'S top vote-getter Monday night.
"Perhaps if Lou had asked the township attorney earlier about this retirement thing, this would have been avoided," he said. "It's unfortunate, and I feel bad for him.
"We had four qualified candidates at that [municipal] committee meeting [including Milin Shah, who was tied for third with Julie Carifi and ended up six votes behind her in a runoff vote Monday]. Any of them would have served the township well. But this is the turn of events we are faced with."
GOP Committeewoman Mary Purzycki said she was displeased by what transpired and intimated that many likeminded voters will remember what happened to Lou Valori Tuesday in Council Chambers.
"There is a primary coming [next June], no doubt," she said.