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Judge Orders Full Council to Vote on Vacancy Appointment

Governing body set to vote Wednesday on issue that touched off disturbance at Nov. 20 meeting

A judge has ordered all eight members of the Newark Municipal Council to cast a vote on the appointment of Shanique Speight at the council’s meeting Wednesday, The Star Ledger reported.

The meeting is scheduled for 12:30 pm at city hall.

Speight was appointed during a contentious vote Nov. 20 to replace Rep. Donald Payne, who was elected to Congress last month. Half the remaining eight council members voted for Speight, as did Mayor Cory Booker, who supported her nomination.

The other four council members, however, said Booker’s involvement was improper. One of the four, Ron Rice, boycotted the meeting to avoid a 4-4 tie which by law would give Booker the deciding vote. In the days leading up to the Nov. 20 meeting, Rice and the other council members had heard Booker was promoting Speight and had secured the support of the other four members. Rice and his faction has wanted more time to deliberate over Payne's replacement. 

The other three stepped down from the dais immediately prior to the Speight vote Nov. 20 after a motion called by one of them, Ras Baraka, was ignored. A melee broke out among the packed audience as Speight was being sworn in.

Booker normally is not entitled to vote on council business, but is allowed to by law when there’s a lack of a quorum on the council or in the event of a tie. But questions remain over the issue of whether there was a quorum.

Both sides turned to the courts for a resolution, with Booker and the four council members asking a judge to either force a vote by all the council members or to uphold the appointment of Speight.

In a statement, Booker’s chief of staff Modia Butler praised the judge’s decision to force a full vote tomorrow.

“The administration is pleased with the judge’s order, issued today, which validates our efforts to bring swift resolution to filling the Newark Municipal Council’s current vacancy,” Butler said. “Consistent with our proposal, the Judge ordered all members of the Newark Municipal Council to appear and vote on the nomination of Shanique Davis Speight at their December 5th meeting.  The judge’s order also recognizes the mayor’s right to vote at that meeting, if necessary.”

Meanwhile, the other council members had asked a judge to invalidate the original vote on the grounds that Booker did not have the right to intervene Nov. 20. On Dec. 11, a judge is also expected to hear arguments on whether an abstention counts as a “no” vote, The Star Ledger reported.

Council members opposed to the Speight appointment may abstain Wednesday in order to avoid voting no and potentially setting up Booker’s tie-breaking vote.

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