The township council’s removal of Scott Olson from Byram’s Open Space Committee overshadowed other business at the Feb. 2 council meeting.
What led to the action was a tweet Olson sent on Dec. 23 that he said contained “vulgar language towards Donald Trump and the Republican Party.” Olson said the council demanded he immediately resign because of it.
The council voted 3-1 to remove Olson, a volunteer on the committee. Councilwoman Cris Franco voted against his removal. Mayor Alexander Rubenstein abstained.
Deputy Mayor Raymond Bonker said Olson had made a significant contribution to the township’s progress during his 15 years of service on the Open Space Committee. However, he said, “It is in the long-term interest of Byram to replace Mr. Olson on the Open Space Committee with another volunteer.” Bonker said he “would hope the new volunteer would demonstrate the spirit of cooperation and teamwork that Byram needs to move forward.”
Some residents expressed disappointment with the council and the lack of transparency, since the action was not on the public agenda.
The council unanimously agreed to amend the public agenda after coming out of executive session, at around 7:30 p.m., to include Olson’s committee removal.
Rubenstein said Byram’s Employee Handbook is posted on the township’s website and applies to all volunteers, council members, and employees. He said that Olson was Rice-noticed for every conversation the council had about him.
In New Jersey, a Rice notice is the required notification from a public body that it is going to discuss a person’s employment in an upcoming meeting.
“There are very strict guidelines about how, where, and when we can talk about this,” Rubenstein said.
Rubenstein said every Rice-noticed person has the right for the conversation to occur in public or private, and to be present for the conversation. Olson had exercised his right to forbid the council to discuss the personnel matter in public.
Olson said he received three Rice notices from Byram and asked that matters be discussed in closed session. However, he said, he does not work for the town, he was never given the personnel handbook, and he is a volunteer.
After attending the first two closed sessions, Olson said he decided not to attend the third session that evening because they had already discussed the situation for five hours. As a free man in the United States of America, he said, he has the right to express his political positions and observations.
The council had not put his removal on the public agenda, Olson said, so he was unaware of the pending action.
Rubenstein said anyone interested in filling the vacancy on the Open Space Committee should send their resume to township clerk and registrar Cindy Church.
Last June, the council in a 4-1 vote censured Councilman Harvey Roseff for social media comments he made equating Joseph Sabatini, the township manager, with the Stasi – the East German communist government secret police after World War II. Roseff said at the time that he was entitled to voice an opinion, and if there was a disagreement, it should be debated, not censured. As in the Olson case, the public disagreed with the action taken against Roseff.
On Feb. 2, Roseff joined two other council members to remove Olson over social media comments the volunteer had made. See related story, “Byram councilman censured for social media post condemning shutdown enforcement,” at townshipjournal.com.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the tally of the council’s vote. Mayor Rubenstein writes, “I did not vote against his removal, I was a ‘no-vote’ which means that I chose to not cast a vote at all. The vote was actually 3-1.” The Advertiser regrets the error.