Council president Maritza Davila is pushing through an ordinance to bar one speaker from yielding time to another at City Council meetings.
Council members gave preliminary approval to the ordinance that political activist Ernest Rucker says is intended to silence him. Members of the City Council will hold a public hearing and final vote on the measure on Tuesday night.
“We’re talking about an ordinance to shut the community down. It is outrageous,” said Rucker on Jan. 14. He claimed Davila proposed the ordinance to target him after he raised the issue of vote by mail fraud in municipal elections. “I truly don’t understand why this is even being done. Now, is it being done because I’m speaking things that you don’t want to hear?”
Rucker claimed the “he” in the language of the ordinance was an ostensible reference to him. Davila told law director Farrah Irving to explain the language to the public. Irving told Rucker the “he” refers to both genders and is standard legal language.
Davila accused Rucker of making false accusations. She claimed his statements were “misleading the community.” She claimed the ordinance is not new and that it has been in the books for 40 years.
Davila’s new ordinance is amending a section of the Paterson Code called “Rules of procedure governing conduct of Council meetings” to add “no time balance from any one person may be relinquished to another person.”
Presently, a speaker is given three minutes to address the council with the option to yield their time to another speaker.
Rucker has been bringing people to meetings over the past months to have them yield their speaking time to him. Some council members felt he was abusing the process.
“This is a change of the ordinance to deny anyone from passing time. Let’s not cloud the issue. No one is misleading the public. You just misled the public,” said Rucker. “This issue we’re talking about today was done by you to shut a person up because you did not want to hear about illegal vote by mail.”
Rucker accused Davila of benefiting from “illegal” vote by mail. He did not present any evidence to make the assertion. Davila received 1,384 mail-in ballots during her re-election in 2018.
In 2016, Davila appeared on a flyer distributed by then-2nd Ward candidate Shahin Khalique’s campaign boasting 1,000 people had voted for “us” ahead of the election. Khalique won the election that was marred by voter fraud. Then-incumbent Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman sued. 22 of Khalique’s mail-in votes were invalidated in the trial. Others were revived from the rejection pile, allowing Khalique to hold onto the seat.
Davila said the ordinance is not intended to silence anyone.
“I’m not changing the law. I’m adding something to it so we’re able to run more effective and efficient meetings. It is within our right to do that,” said Davila. “This is just for order.”
“I think we’re taking an unfortunate turn on this council for a little bit now and it’s taking us into a little bit of a troubled water. I don’t think we can disassociate the change in terms of the timing of it. I’m with the sentiment that if we’re going to change it lets change it across the board for everybody,” said William McKoy, longest serving member of the City Council. “The linkage has already been made and we can’t unlink it. It appears that we’re saying, ‘We’ll put a rule in place to limit you if we get uncomfortable.’”
Some council members favored introducing another ordinance to rein in loquacious members of the governing body by setting time limits.
Council members preliminarily approved the measure in a 5-3. Davila, Al Abdelaziz, Khalique, Flavio Rivera, and Luis Velez voted in favor while McKoy, Lilisa Mimms, and Ruby Cotton voted against. Michael Jackson was not present during the vote.
“To me City Hall is the people’s house,” said Cotton. “You have to let people voice their concerns. You’ve got to remember City Hall belongs to the people, who put you there.”