A radical campaign to transform Atlantic City government to make it less susceptible to corruption was dealt a blow on Thursday when the city clerk rejected a petition submitted by organizers of the “Atlantic City Residents for Good Government” political action group (PAC).
The campaign is spearheaded by casino union boss Bob McDevitt, Resorts Casino owner Morris Bailey, and Ray Lesniak, the former New Jersey state senator who led the state’s court battle for legal sports betting.
They say they’re sick of an endless procession of crooked mayors and officials in the casino resort town and want to drastically reduce mayoral powers by adopting a municipal-manager form of government.
What’s a Municipal-Manager City Government?
In this model, the mayor is simply a councilperson with a largely administrative role who is selected by the council to serve as the public face of the city, as opposed to the directly elected head of government.
Meanwhile, the council is the elected legislative body and the city’s policymakers. It approves the budget, which is prepared by the municipal manager, and adopts local laws.
The municipal manager serves as the governing body’s chief adviser, providing information about local operations and making policy recommendations. The manager can be fired by a majority of elected councilmembers.
“The elected officials hire a professional city manager based on that person’s EXPERIENCE, NOT their political alliances,” explains the campaign’s website, capitals its own.
But the campaign suffered a setback when City Clerk Paula Geletei found that only 699 of the 3,000 signatures submitted in the hope of triggering a citywide ballot were, for a variety of reasons, valid.
A portion were from people not registered to vote, while others were illegible, and there were questions about the standing of one of the notaries charged with gathering signatures.
Geletei has given the PAC 20 days to come up with 2,301 valid signatures.
Vows to Fight On
But in an official statement Thursday, the PAC said the rejection “reeks of malfeasance” and vowed to redouble its efforts.
“We’re going to right the wrongs of this city whether the ignoramuses that run it like it or not,” McDevitt told the Associated Press.
This isn’t a government, this is a cartel,” McDevitt said. “It’s the same dozen or so people who have controlled this city for 30 years, and they have ravaged the government, and we’re not going to let them anymore. We’re tired of them taking our money and doing nothing with it.”
Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Sr. praised the development Thursday. He has called the movement to oust him “a power grab.”
Small has a lengthy arrest record, which includes allegedly selling narcotics near a school and assault. He has twice been indicted for — but not convicted of — electoral fraud.
His predecessor, Frank Gilliam Jr., pleaded guilty in October to wire fraud after stealing $87,000 from a youth basketball team. He also appeared in court shortly after taking office for getting into a fight in the parking lot of the Golden Nugget.
In 2007, when former Mayor Robert Levy pleaded guilty to defrauding the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Associated Press reported that four of the city’s previous eight mayors had been arrested on graft charges, and one third of the city’s council members was either in prison or under house arrest.