Bloomingdale Councilwoman Linda Shortman said she walked out of Tuesday's borough council meeting during discussion on the proposed Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program for AvalonBay because she felt uncomfortable.
The councilwoman, who left the meeting along with other Republican council members Jo-Ann Pituch and Mark Conklin, said she felt "harrassed and bullied" by Democrat Councilman Ray Yazdi as he questioned her knowledge of the PILOT program she voted against last month. But Mayor Jonathan Dunleavy said Wednesday that answering questions, like those that were asked of Shortman, is the job of an elected official.
"It was an absolute disgrace that the majority chose to leave the room. They have been elected to govern the borough. If issues become difficult, they can't just pick up their toys and go home," the mayor said.
Yazdi questioned Shortman Tuesday night after once again presenting the PILOT program, which would allow AvalonBay, the developer of a luxury apartment complex on Union Avenue, to make payments to the borough in lieu of paying typical taxes for 30 years. Money from the payments, approximately $550,000 per year expected to increase by 2 percent per year, would mostly go to the borough, as opposed to the majority of money going to the school district under normal taxation. The borough would also gain the money that would typically go to Passaic County.
The Republican majority, with the exception of Councilman Glenn Schiffman who was recused from the issue, voted against enacting the PILOT though, with Shortman providing reasons why she did not agree with the plan. Among those reasons were concerns over the school district not receiving money typically brought in by taxation and uncertainty over the number of students that would move into the borough as a result of the rental units at AvalonBay.
Yazdi disputed those reasons, but Shortman said she would not change her mind on her vote.
"I think it's perfectly clear that nobody who voted 'no' wanted to revisit it," Shortman said Wednesday.
Shortman said she felt that she was being bullied for about 20 minutes of the discussion before the council members decided to leave. She said this went on because the council meetings are not run properly, in her opinion. Council members Pituch and Conklin did not return calls for comment.
"I think that we need to do the business of the town and I think that the meetings have to get more under control. We're not getting things done at our meetings," she said. "There were important things on the agenda and I think it's a shame, but I'm not going to sit there for 15 or 20 minutes long to be harassed and bullied."
Shortman said the meetings get out of hand, often causing members to have to stay late.
"I think the problem in Bloomingdale is we have no decorum at the meetings," she said. "We don't control the meetings and we have meetings that will go until 1 a.m."
Dunleavy was also disappointed that borough business could not be done Tuesday because of the lack of a quorum after the council members left. Business that was not discussed Tuesday night included bills and contracts and the "Nightmare on Bailey Ave." event. As a result, the council had to schedule a special meeting for Monday (Oct. 15) at 7 p.m. so that action can be taken on the items.
Dunleavy and Yazdi promised Tuesday night to continue to bring up the issue of the PILOT program at every meeting until the end of the year, but out of "fear of them walking out" again, Dunleavy said he will recommend the PILOT discussion be held at the end of the meeting, after other borough business is taken care of. Shortman said she will leave again during discussion on the program.
"I am not going to change my mind and I don't think we're using our time during meetings wisely," Shortman said. "I will leave the meeting during the PILOT discussion and when that's over, I will return."
Dunleavy disagreed that Shortman was bullied and said a member of the public could have gotten up and asked the same questions Yazdi asked.
"What's abusive of asking an elected official to explain their vote?" he said.