Flap over VOTE petition stirs debate at meeting

Issue centers on collection
of signatures at July 4
event in Johnson Park

By Joyce Blay
Staff Writer

Flap over VOTE petition
stirs debate at meeting
Issue centers on collection
of signatures at July 4
event in Johnson Park
By Joyce Blay
Staff Writer

JACKSON — The issue was free speech, the venue was Independence Day festivities at Johnson Park, but members of VOTE (Voters Organized To Elect our mayor) involved in the incident that evening were not talking about it to the media.

The irony of a group dedicated to changing government by statutory means whose members refused to speak about an alleged infringement of their Constitu-tional right to free speech on a day that celebrates those rights was not lost on VOTE spokesman Robert Schiappacasse, a corporate attorney. However, he was unable to compel any of the six or seven people he said were involved in the matter to discuss it with the Tri-Town News.

Instead, Barbara Vigliotti chose to address Mayor Michael Kafton and other members of the Township Committee about what happened on July 4 before a handful of residents attending the governing body’s July 14 meeting.

"May I call you Michael?" asked Vigliotti, who said she has known the mayor for many years, then quickly made her point. "We were not permitted to get signatures" in Johnson Park on Indepen-dence Day, she said.

According to Schiappacasse, Vigliotti and others were in the park on July 4 to solicit signatures for a petition containing a question they wish to place on the ballot in November. If the question makes it onto the ballot and is approved by voters, Jackson’s government would be changed from that of a part-time, five-member committee that appoints a mayor each January to a larger government with a full-time, directly elected mayor and a nine-member Township Council and ward system.

The Township Committee at its July 14 meeting unanimously introduced an ordinance that would instead place before voters the question of whether to create a charter study commission that would examine the possibility of changing the town’s form of government and to have voters elect members to that commission.

Only one question regarding Jackson’s form of government may be placed before voters in the fall in order to avoid confusion, according to Township Attorney Kevin Starkey.

The committee has stated its opposition to the question proposed by VOTE. Kafton told the Tri-Town News the week before the meeting that committee members would in fact introduce their own charter study commission question as an ordinance at the upcoming meeting.

Proponents of the VOTE petition who were present when the charter student commission proposal passed on first read­ing were equally vociferous in their opposi­tion to it.

The question that will appear on the ballot depends on whether VOTE members can collect 5,000 certified signatures of registered Jackson voters before the com­mittee adopts its ordinance next week.

"It’s not that you weren’t permitted [to solicit signatures], Barbara," Kafton said. "I made a recommendation that you did not [follow]."

Kafton said the solicitation that night of signatures by supporters for VOTE’s peti­tion was improper at the community cele­bration.

Committeeman Joseph Grisanti agreed.

"It’s not right, it’s just not right," he said to Vigliotti.

"Then on Jackson Day, we won’t have a Republican or a Democratic booth?" Vigliotti asked.

"That’s Jackson Day," said Grisanti.

Kafton repeated his assertion that the VOTE group did not follow his instruc­tions, or those of the police, who were also involved in the July 4 incident.

"Barbara, it was required that you did not [solicit petition signatures that night]," said Kafton. "It was required by myself and the director of the police department."

Samuel DePasquale is the public safety director who oversees the Jackson Police Department.

At that point Vigliotti left the public fo­rum. She declined an interview request from the Tri-Town News.

In a subsequent conversation, Kafton acknowledged that the VOTE group was at Johnson Park on July 4 to solicit signatures to change Jackson’s form of government and that he approached those soliciting signatures to ask them to stop their activity. However, he said he had not called DePasquale in order to have the police use force to stop the solicitation of signatures.

"There was a question as to whether the police had given them permission to [solicit signatures], so I contacted Mr. DePasquale and he said [they had not re­quested permission]," Kafton said.

When asked whether anyone needed permission to solicit petition signatures in a public park in Jackson, Kafton said he did­ not believe they did, but he defended his actions nonetheless.

"People come here to enjoy the park with their family and [petition solicitors] were interfering with that," he said. "The police department was there because of the amount of traffic. Barbara, as well as any­one else, knows that."