NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Officials announced on May 21 that a housing inspector suspended for allegedly using a racial slur to describe Assistant City Attorney Charly Gayden will be returning to work on June 5.
Ronald Bellafronte, suspended for three months without pay since March 5, will resume his employment with the city following a decision by the city's hearing officer, Patrick W. Foley
In front of the packed City Council meeting, activist Tormel Pittman challenged Council Vice President Kevin Egan to resign his post and attacked the ethical principles behind the decision.
Tensions rose between Pittman and Egan, escalating into a heated back-and-forth dialogue before Egan repeatedly told Pittman that his allotted five minutes for speaking were over.
Earlier in the meeting, council members unanimously approved a $1,318.98 payment to Foley, a former associate at the powerful law firm of County Counsel Thomas Kelso and former County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan.
Foley made the decision that Bellafronte should have been suspended but not fired, while city officials said they had pushed for temination.
Egan, who works for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 456, said that, for better or worse, the city had to respect the decision of the hearing officer because public workers are entitled to due process.
Under the city's contract with the Municipal Employees Association, city workers have a right to a disciplinary hearing before being terminated.
Egan reminded the crowd that the city recommended Bellafronte’s termination, but lost in the hearing. However, the city did not appeal the ruling, which was within their rights.
"Both parties had the opportunities to appeal, and the City decided not to," said city spokesperson Jennifer Bradshaw. "The ruling isn't what we recommended… but we accepted it."
Egan, who stood in for the absent Council President Rebecca Escobar, attributed the city’s decision to Foley, saying he had no power over the outcome.
“Why would I resign?” Egan asked, dismissing Pittman’s challenge.
Dissatisfied, Pittman pressed the Council members and questioned their views.
“My character couldn’t allow me to work alongside this person,” Pittman said.
Business Administrator Thomas Loughlin said he was not sure whether Bellafronte would be re-instated to his housing inspector job, or transfered to a different position.
In his housing inspector job, Bellafronte frequently worked with Gayden, who prosecuted the housing code violations Bellafronte issued.
"That's still being discussed internally. There isn't an answer yet," said Bradshaw.
As housing inspector, Bellafronte frequently worked with Gayden, who prosecuted the housing code violations Bellafronte issued.
Pointing to Gayden, Pittman declared that a highly-educated woman of color should not have to feel victimized by Bellafronte, who is “getting a city check” as a government employee.
“She’s my sister, and I’m here to support her,” Pittman said, adding that no one should be complicit in the reinstatement of someone who was suspended for using a racial slur.
He argued that Bellafronte’s presence would harm all other city employees who felt like targets of his discriminatory statements, and who would still have to work with him.
Loughlin had previously condemned Bellafronte’s actions as “not tolerated by this administration” when confronted by Pittman at a previous Council meeting.
Other city officials such as Michael Mahony and Edward O’Rourke are still awaiting their own disciplinary hearings for their respective charges, even though those accusations were leveled in 2013.
In both cases, the city is pushing for termination. City attorney William Hamilton said it was required the city wait until the criminal investigations against the men conclude.
Pittman repeated the slur that Bellafronte had allegedly utterred three times during his remarks, before making an abrupt exit and leaving behind a tense atmosphere.
The Bellafronte controversy was just one component of a long agenda.
Most in the crowd had come out in support of Fire Director Robert Rawls, defending his reputation after a tragic car crash involving Rawls' city-owned SUV striking three young children.
This was the second consecutive meeting where the top floor of City Hall was unable to contain an overwhelming number of attendees, with many people crowding outside the door.
Two weeks earlier, hundreds attended a Council meeting to express concerns over the accident.