EAST ORANGE, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Political fireworks have broken out in the East Orange City Council amid claims that Councilwoman Andrea McPhatter abandoned the city after Superstorm Sandy.
As CBS 2’s Derricke Dennis reported exclusively, the regularly scheduled City Council meeting Monday evening turned into a shouting match.
Two days after the storm, the councilwoman’s home – built in 1901 – suffered a power surge and an electrical fire, forcing her family out.
Four months later, McPhatter and her three children remained displaced, living with a friend two towns away in West Orange and violating state law.
“My residents call me. I’m still available,” McPhatter said. “I’m at my home every single day.”
But her relocation sparked an anonymous flier, shaming her and claiming she is taking advantage of taxpayers. However, McPhatter said she is being kicked when she is down.
“Have they been through a fire? Have they lost everything? Are they starting over?” she said.
Council President Quilla Talmadge wrote a letter to McPhatter, saying the council is “conducting due diligence to verify” her residency status and assure “compliance.”
“State statute says you can’t live in one town, and represent another one,” Talmadge said.
Talmadge said it was McPhatter enrolling her children in the top-rated West Orange School District that raised a red flag.
“Everybody on the Council assisted Councilwoman McPhatter when she first had her fire,” Talmadge said.
But McPhatter said that is not true.
“Everyone on Council did not assist me,” she said. “Had I received that assistance, had there been some communication at least I would have known in advance.”
Underlying it all, some said, is the upcoming mayor’s race and political payback for McPhatter’s support for candidate Kevin Taylor over incumbent Robert Bowser.
“Yes, there’s no question about the fact that it’s motivated by politics,” Taylor said.
But residents of the councilwoman’s ward said a city official who cannot get back on her feet after four months speaks volumes.
“If she can’t resolve her own problems, how can she help us with our problems here?” East Orange resident Almeta Walker said.
The council as of Monday was waiting for the state to weigh in on the residency issue. But McPhatter said she will continue to do her job while trying fix her house.
State law governing the residency of elected officials does not directly address acts of nature. The issue could end up in front of a judge.
Do you think McPhatter should face consequences for residing outside city limits? Leave your comments below…