'Doctrine of Necessity' Enough for Honeywell Vote, Twp. Attorney Says
Two residents filed a complaint this month, threatening ordinance allowing Fortune-100 company to develop its 147-acre tract.
A "Doctrine of neccessity" was apparent when reinstating two recused Township Committee members for the long-awaited Honeywell vote in October, Morris Township's attorney said Wednesday.
This, however, did not stop two vocal opponents, Robert Burke and Lee Goldberg, from filing a complaint this month challenging the township's 4-1 vote allowing Honeywell International site-specific rezoning on their 147-acre Columbia Road campus.
The approval, following about two years of meetings concerning the issue, paves the way for the Fortune-100 company to build 235 townhouses and expand office and lab space.
Only Jeff Grayzel, the committee's lone Democrat, voted against the approval. Grayzel, along with fellow Committeeman Bruce Sisler had been barred from voting on the ordiance due to conflicts of interest. Grayzel's wife has a pension through Honeywell and 401K plan with some Honeywell stock, while Sisler is the Chief of Staff for Assemblyman Anthony Bucco Jr., an advocate for keeping Honeywell in the Township.
However, Municipal Land Use Law states that a "supermajority" of the governing body (in Morris Township's case, four of the five committee members) must vote when at least 20 percent of property owners within 200 feet of the property to be voted on file a complaint. Since that happened, Mills said the "Doctrine of neccessity" came into play when deciding to bring Grayzel and Sisler back into the fold for the vote.
"They (Honeywell International) are a Fortune-100 company, they are the largest single taxpayer in Morris Township," Mills said. "They were—and, I believe still are—being actively courted by surrounding towns who would love to have them. I think it was urgent."
Mills said without the supermajority vote needed in the Honeywell matter, the vote would have automatically gone down.
"The 'Doctrine of neccessity' assumes from the beginning there are conflicts," he said. "That's why they call it the 'Doctrine of neccessity.' If an important action needs to be taken, then the better view is, not withstanding those conflicts, bring them back in and let the important public work proceed."
However, the complaint's main argument, Burke said, is not that Sisler—re-elected to the committee earlier this month—presented a conflict of interest.
"The reason is because he exerted undue influence on the process by making those after-midnight phone calls to Lee [Goldberg,] in response to Lee's vocal criticism of Sisler and of the Honeywell ordinance," Burke said.
Sisler has claimed he called Goldberg late one early August night because he received an email from the resident at 11:25 p.m., criticizing his work on the township committee in 2010. Sisler later apologized for the call and said the matter had been referred to the Township's Ethics Committee.
"We don't think there's any way possible for Sisler's vote to stand because he made those phone calls to threaten, intimidate and harass," Burke told Patch. "Moreover, the calls were never the subject of discussion before the Township Committee. As such, the committee's invocation of the 'Doctrine of necessity' couldn't have addressed that improper influence even if it had the legal capacity to do so.
"Simply put, you can't approve something that hasn't been disclosed and considered," he added.