Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino claimed Friday that neither he nor his undersheriffs had officially resigned, even though they all surrendered their guns, badges and vehicles last weekend.
Secretary of State Tahesha Way refused to allow Saudino the attempt at extending his tenure to Friday, Oct. 5, noting that she already had his official resignation letter from last week.
"The position of the Bergen County Sheriff has been vacant since September 21 and remains vacant," she wrote in a letter released Friday night, adding that Bergen County Clerk John Hogan should prepare for a special election on Nov. 6.
The Bergen County Prosecutor's Office last weekend retrieved guns, badges and vehicles and other items from Saudino at his Emerson home and from the undersheriffs at their homes, as required by state guidelines.
This came after Saudino announced in a news release last Friday that, "effective immediately," he was submitting his resignation, and that his undersheriffs had done the same, following the release of secretly-recorded racist and homophobic comments that he'd made.
In turn, state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said that the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office "will oversee day-to-day management of the Sheriff’s Office, with Chief Kevin Pell serving as the officer-in-charge of the department’s operations."
Then came a letter Friday to Way.
“I have taken this week off and will be returning to my office next week to finalize several outstanding issues,” Saudino wrote. “My last day of work will be coordinated with the paid period of October 5th, 2018.”
He also emphasized that he wanted to “make perfectly clear that my decision to resign shall in no way reflect the employment of the Bergen County [u]ndersheriffs.”
Saudino said they “shall remain employed in their respective positions” and that they “are an asset to the [office] and “have served the residents of Bergen County with honor, distinction and integrity.”
What happens Monday is anyone’s guess -- although Way said there's no room for interpretation.
State law requires a Nov. 6 special election, allowing voters to select Saudino’s replacement, she said.
The term would be for three years, she said.
Hogan, the county clerk, would "issue guidance regarding deadlines and the nomination process for candidates to the office," Way said.
"Our offices will remain in close touch with the Bergen County clerk and remain available as a resource as they work to ensure the critical vacancy is filled," she added.
A half-dozen state senators have petitioned Gov. Murphy to appoint a successor to Saudino -- with the advice and consent of the state Senate -- under a provision in the state Constitution that designates sheriffs as state officers.
This, they said, would prevent having to send out 40,000 or so new absentee or mail-in ballots — the number that were mailed without sheriff's candidates listed (Saudino's term was to expire on Dec. 31, 2019).
Under the state Constitution, New Jersey's governor must appoint a sheriff if there is a vacancy within 37 days of the next election.
As of Friday, there were 39 days until the Nov. 6 election.
Neither the county Democratic nor Republican political committees had decided on a candidate for the job as of Friday.
A host of names have dropped in and out of the mix, with some even popping back in and surprise contenders showing up.
The Democrats have scheduled an election Tuesday in Paramus. Members of the GOP have said they were planning their own convention but haven't been more specific.
In a statement released Sept. 21 by Bergen County Sheriff's Director of Communications William Schievella:
"The Bergen County Sheriff’s Office announces that effective this date and at this time Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino has submitted his resignation as the Sheriff of Bergen County.
"Additionally, Executive Undersheriff George Buono, Undersheriff Robert Colaneri, Undersheriff Brian Smith and Undersheriff Joseph Hornyak have also submitted their resignations effective immediately.
"Pending the appointment of an interim sheriff by Governor Phil Murphy, Sheriff’s Office Chief Kevin Pell will be the officer-in-charge of the sheriff’s department’s operations and Bergen County Sheriff’s Office Warden Steve Ahrendt will be the officer-in-charge of the Bergen County jail’s operations.
"There will be no further statements at this time."
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