The city council approved a resolution on Tuesday evening removing the two remaining boycotting members of the board of adjustment who alleged being subjected to prejudice.
In a 6-0-2 vote council members voted to oust Montaha Deeb and Aheya Khan for missing three or more consecutive meetings. Deeb and Khan began boycotting the meetings after complaining about racial prejudice against them and Muslim applicants.
A third board of adjustment member, Alaur Khondokar, also had been boycotting with Deeb and Khan since last year. Khondokar’s term expired in July.
Council members who voted in favor of the removal argued the boycott caused economic damage to the city.
“We’ve been going through this for a whole year,” said Alex Mendez, councilman at-large. “It was a dysfunctional board. We lost a lot of revenue because of it.”
The board had enough members to hold meetings, but developers opted to not present their projects to a less than full board for fear of getting their applications rejected.
Council president William McKoy said the members are in violation of the city’s regulation and are causing harm to the city.
“We’ve been stuck for a year. There’s a lot of things that have to be approved,” said Luis Velez, 5th Ward councilman. “We need to move our city forward.”
“Some of the board members are no longer on the board and still they decided not to participate,” said Michael Jackson, 1st Ward councilman. The council did not re-appoint Geraldine Rayfield, who was at the center of the allegations, when her term expired in July.
Gerald Thaxton, who was also accused, remains on the board.
Some council members sought reassurance from law director Domenick Stampone on the possible legal risk the city is taking by removing the members. Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, in a memorandum told city officials taking action on this measure will open the city up to litigation.
Morris was absent from Tuesday’s meeting. He stated in the memo he wanted the resolution to be re-listed on the agenda not as a measure sponsored by the entire council, but one sponsored by those who favored the removal.
Jackson attempted to modify the resolution before the vote to reflect those in support of the removal, but the council president overruled him.
“What you have before you is strong legal basis to take the action you are considering,” said Stampone. He said the ordinance states anyone who misses three or more consecutive meetings “shall” be removed from the board. “You are acting within applicable law.”
Ruby Cotton, councilman at-large, asked whether the city council’s incomplete inquiry will present any legal problems.
Stampone said the city never had an obligation to hold the hearings.
Jackson, Mendez, McKoy, Velez, Shahin Khalique, and Maritza Davila voted in favor of removing the members. Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman, abstained from voting. Cotton also abstained.
“I’m a little bit leery. I don’t want to leave us susceptible to lawsuits,” said Sayegh. He pointed to Deeb’s successful discrimination lawsuit against the city.
Although the boycotting members alleged prejudice on the board, McKoy said the council’s decision is strictly based on their attendance. He noted Khalique, who is Muslim supported the removal resolution.
Khan on Wednesday morning said Khalique’s vote may constitute an alleged conflict of interest due to the on-going 2nd Ward election fraud trial. Khan said he is a witness in the trial against Khalique.
At the Passaic County Courthouse on Wednesday morning, Khalique would not respond to Khan’s allegation of conflict of interest.
Khan said he expected the council to resolve the issue through its hearings. He said before the boycott city official were apprised of the issue, but ignored it. The council belatedly held hearings in March and April, but never completed them.
“Is this how city government is going to function? When someone complains they are just going to remove them? It shouldn’t function like that. This is completely wrong,” said Khan on Wednesday morning.
This report was updated on Sept. 21, 2016 at 11:30 a.m. with additional comments from Khan, Khalique, and McKoy.