Councilman Kenneth Morris is warning the city could face possible legal risks in removing two Muslim board of adjustment members – Montaha Deeb and Aheya Khan — who have been boycotting meetings for more than a year to protest alleged racial prejudice on the board.
“It almost seems retaliatory on the surface. They could say they were removed unjustly and they were not afforded due process. They made the council aware of the complaints and the council failed in its responsibility as the appointing authority to investigate these complaints and instead they were summarily removed,” said Morris on Monday afternoon.
This comes as the council is expected to consider a resolution on Tuesday night to remove Deeb and Khan for missing large number of meetings. Morris has characterized their absence as a form of civil disobedience to force the council to address allegations of prejudice against themselves and applicants.
Morris found fault with the resolution listed on the council’s agenda as being sponsored by the city council. In an email to city officials on Sunday morning, he said it’s a “misrepresentation” to list the item as something the entire council supports.
“Given I disagree with this action I do not wish to be listed as a sponsor therefore to list it as being sponsored by the Municipal Council is a misrepresentation,” wrote Morris. He said the measure will open the entire council up to “costly litigation” and he does not want to be named as a party in any potential lawsuits.
Council president William McKoy said he was unaware of Morris’ protest. He said the city’s regulation makes it clear a members who misses three or more consecutive meetings maybe considered for removal.
“These individuals have gone way above that,” said McKoy. He said even after being admonished they have failed to attend the July reorganization meeting. When asked about possible lawsuits that could result from the council’s move to remove the board members, he said: “I fail to see any risk of lawsuit.”
Law director Domenick Stampone did not respond to a call for comment on Monday afternoon.
The council president said the members serve on the board at the pleasure of the council. The council sought to resolve the issue through a series of hearings, but it never completed them.
Council members interviewed commissioners Khan and Geraldine Rayfield in March and April. Since then, Rayfield’s term on the board expired. Another board member involved in the issue Alaur Khondokar’s term also expired.
Khan, Deeb, and Khondokar alleged they were subjected to prejudice on the board. Khan told the council Muslim applicants with Islamic names who came before the board of adjustment were subjected to irrelevant questions from some of the board members.
In some cases, Khan said some of the board members pointed to non-existent conflict of interest. Rayfield accused Deeb of having a conflict of interest for inviting one of the applicant to a Christmas party.
Rayfield had hard time explaining how that constitutes a conflict of interest to the council president when she was questioned by the council in April.
Morris said the council prematurely halted those hearings and failed to make a determination. He said it’s unjust for the council to remove members without giving them a fair hearing. He said the council should reconvene and conclude its inquiry before taking any actions against any of the commissioners.
“That process started, but it never concluded,” said Morris.
The council will consider the removal resolution at its meeting on Tuesday night.