The husband of Council President Tammy Williams has been banned from Town Council meetings after an alleged public outburst. Councilman Rutherford, backed by witness testimony, claimed that Williams’s husband John McNair, a former Planning Board member, threatened him toward the end of the council meeting on June 27 during a discussion about removing the township’s head lawyer.
At last Tuesday’s council meeting, Rutherford, citing the municipal code that prohibits “offensive or abusive remarks,” made a motion to bar McNair. Despite a suggestion from Councilwoman Michelle Casalino — who claimed not to hear the threat — to deal with the altercation in private, Rutherford insisted on putting the motion to vote that passed 3-1. Casalino abstained.
Several witnesses shared more details of the stand-off, some even calling for Williams to resign, during the public comment session. “I was seated in the row between this man and Councilman Rutherford, when this man shouted at Councilman Rutherford, ‘I will take you out,’” said Sheila Lefkowitz, who lives on Pleasant Valley Way. “Being physically in the middle of this verbal terror, my heart pounded.”
Torey Schnupp, a Galloway Court resident, denounced the council president’s inaction. “He should have been removed at once, banned from future meetings, but you stopped that from happening,” Schnupp said.
In the township’s recording of the council meeting on June 27, Councilman Rutherford can be seen reacting to a flare-up from someone seated in the council chambers. The exchange escalates and Rutherford signals to a police officer to intervene. “If you can’t maintain decorum, if you can’t be an adult and professional in here, then you—” said Rutherford, before being cut off. “Officer, please have this man removed, please have him removed, he’s making threats to a councilman.”
Williams, instructing the police officer not to “remove anyone,” instead moved to adjourn the meeting, claiming not to have heard the threat.
Beginning early in her term as elected official, Councilwoman Williams made “decorum” part of her platform, often admonishing the public, as well as the council. “Please just remember to be kind – we don’t want to be attacked,” Williams said at her third council meeting. “You don’t have to criticize us and say we’re doing things with underhanded intentions – that’s not why we serve.”
However, frustrations have run high at council meetings of late as Mayor Susan McCartney has struggled to move forward with her policy initiatives, while dealing with a major budget shortfall. The township’s purchase of Rock Spring Country Club and the decision to buy back land from Prism after the developer defaulted on its downtown redevelopment agreement have driven up the township’s debt amid rising interest rates. The need for tax hikes and sewer bill increases, along with a recent Supreme Court decision that ruled against the township’s head attorney, Richard Trenk, have led to calls to remove McCartney’s closest legal advisor from head of the law department.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, Rutherford proposed hiring a legislative research officer to consult the council on how to remove Trenk from office. Casalino dismissed Rutherford’s campaign to remove Trenk as “just political.”
Coming to office during Mayor Rob Parisi’s last term, Rutherford has been a political firebrand, often casting the lone vote in opposition of some of the three-term mayor’s defining legislation, including designating Rooney Circle an area in need of redevelopment, which paved the way for selling the public library without bid and the ensuing Supreme Court case.
However, the past election has shifted the power balance in Town Hall. Rutherford now finds himself part of a council majority, voting alongside incumbents, Sue Scarpa and Asmeret Ghebremicael, forestalling the current mayor’s policy initiatives and thwarting her cabinet choices. Mayor McCartney has called the faction a “shadow government.”