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City requests clarification of its charter from court

Date: 2/15/2013

By Carley Dangona

WESTFIELD — After six months of deliberation, Mayor Daniel Knapik has asked for determination from the state Superior Court who should be the Ward 2 City Councilor.

The city filed a Complaint for Declaratory Judgment with the court on Feb. 7, seeking clarification of the City Charter.

The Ward 2 seat has remained empty since August 2012 when Jim Brown resigned.

Resident Brian Winters is interested in filling the spot. He received one write-in vote in the last election, making him the next highest vote getter in the race.

Attorney Mark Tanner of Bacon Wilson, representing Ward 2 constituents, sent a letter to City Solicitor Susan Phillips on Feb. 1 that stated he would proceed with the filing of a civil suit if resident Brian Winters was not appointed to the Ward 2 seat by the time of the next meeting of the council, which was Feb. 7.

Knapik declined to comment on the Feb. 1 correspondence from Tanner.

Both Knapik and Phillips stated that the complaint was not filed in response to possibility of the pending civil suit.

Tanner stated that an answer would be filed in response to the city's request for clarification by the court.

"The filing asks the Superior Court for two things," Knapik said. "The first is a definition of the timeline the mayor has to fill the seat, and the second is for the court to define the [scope of] mayor's choice."

He added, "We've been mulling a lot of options over — there's no easy choice."

Phillips said, "We want the Superior Court to look at the parts of the Charter language that is unclear to us. Law departments can advise, but cannot rule. We've been thinking about this [option] for a while. Hopefully we'll have a timely resolution."

Phillips addressed her previous recommendation to the council that recommended Winters be given the seat. "That recommendation was prior to the time constraint of 15 days having passed."

Per Section 25 in Subpart A of the City Charter, the council had 15 days to fulfill the vacancy before the responsibility became the mayor's.