Montclair’s township clerk Angelese Bermúdez Nieves is up for tenure after a three-year trial period, but at Montclair’s last council meeting, residents voiced opposition to a lifetime appointment. Bermúdez Nieves took the position in September 2020. Montclair’s previous Town Clerk, Linda Wanat, held the position for more than 30 years.

Bermúdez Nieves has worked for the township since 2008, beginning as the legal assistant to the township attorney, and later as executive assistant to then-township manager Timothy Stafford. Bermúdez Nieves replaced Juliet Lee, who was deputy municipal clerk under Wanat and then served as acting municipal clerk when Wanat retired. Lee announced her retirement on September 2020, after 19 years with the township. In October 2022, Lee filed a gender and a gender and age discrimination lawsuit against Stafford.

The Role of the Clerk

As clerk, one of the responsibilities Bermúdez Nieves has is preparing minutes of council meetings. The Montclair Town Council then adopts the minutes, so an official record can be made available.

Angelese Bermúdez Nieves at the August 15 council meeting (MARIA MONICA FERNANDEZ)

At the August 15 Council meeting, the Town Council approved the minutes for their meetings on May 16th and June 13th.

Lani Sommer-Padilla, calling for more transparency, urged the council to follow the exact letter of the law. 

“The Town Clerk needs to go. She is in violation of the law,” Sommer-Padilla said during public comment. “Tonight, you voted to pass the minutes from May 16. Where are the minutes from the July meeting? You should have passed the minutes from July tonight. Where are the minutes from the so-called emergency meeting that was held last week? My understanding is that you may be in violation of the law due to not following the proper procedure. It seems it has become routine for this council to engage in conduct that, at the very least, has an appearance of impropriety, if not legitimately unlawful.”

There was also concern about the clerk’s compliance with the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).

One of many signs held by residents at the August 15 meeting. (MARIA MONICA FERNANDEZ)

Chrissy Thomas, a resident and an attorney, said when she files requests for public records, she receives an automatic reply asking for more time. 

“I personally have made multiple requests that have received no answers or have asked for more time,” Thomas said. “Every time you make a request, she [Bermúdez Nieves] automatically sends out a response saying ‘we need more time.’ Under OPRA she is required to respond within seven days.”

Complaints about the Township’s inability to fulfill OPRA requests in a timely fashion were raised by residents in 2022. Thomas fears that if the town cannot comply with OPRA, Montclair will be at risk of being sued. 

None of the seven town council members addressed questions about the performance of the clerk’s office at the meeting.  

Councilor-at-Large Yacobellis believes the Town Council’s employee evaluations should remain private. 

“It’s just not appropriate to discuss employee performance publicly,” Yacobellis said. “This is something the Council will deliberate internally and the outcome will become known when we make our decision.” 

“I think it’s important that the public understand that Open Public Record Requests are a multi-department function of the government,” Yacobellis added. “The clerk relies on IT and the Law Department to procure and approve release of information, respectively. I also see us getting caught up with minutes and I think it will be resolved shortly.”

Thomas wants to know how the Council reaches their decision about the clerk’s tenure. She does not want the lifetime appointment of the Town Clerk to be decided behind closed doors.  

“It’s the Open Public Records Act. There’s also the Open public meetings act. When the town council say ‘this is a personnel issue,’ that is not enough to qualify for closed session. A closed session also requires minutes to which the public is entitled,” Thomas said.

Vacancy in Clerk’s Office

In addition to deciding on the future of the clerk position, the Township is also currently advertising to fill the deputy clerk position, recently vacated by Bridget Barney.

Councilor at Large Robert Russo, in an email to the township’s legal team and human resources director, asked why he wasn’t informed of the vacancy, and said: “We cannot have a Deputy Clerk vacancy while the Clerk is also out! Let’s not have one person decide who works for us, the Council, the Township, and the taxpayers who are demanding action on the issue of Clerk office performance.”

The email Russo responds to is from August 18, 2023, when the township’s human resources director Alisha Dawkins shared that she had received notification that morning of Barney’s resignation and a request to advertise the position. Dawkins indicated that Barney’s last day was August 23. Bermúdez Nieves is on vacation until September 5.  

At the August 15 Town Council meeting, Bermúdez Nieves was in attendance. When asked by Mayor Spiller if she had any comments or report to share for the Council, Bermúdez Nieves said she had no comment and did not mention the vacancy in the deputy clerk office. 

Fourth Ward Councilor David Cummings said he has raised the issue of the clerk’s status with the council but no one outside of Councilor Russo seemed interested.

The next meeting of the Montclair Township Council is Tuesday, September 12.

Join the Conversation


  1. ““It’s just not appropriate to discuss employee performance publicly,” Yacobellis said.

    And this is why Councilor Yacobellis was 100% right to pack it in.

    His singular, overarching strength is communications. And he nailed it with this sentence. But, no, he had to go on to the other illuminations. Knowing full well the performance issues in the Law Dept & the IT Dept. The big issue with the Clerk was the rent control petition. As to the minutes? Seriously? They only mattered for the blacked-out Conference meetings…with their off-agenda, last minute actions. These same people complaining had no problem with these shenanigans when it was for a position they favored. These are not the voices we should be listening to.

    As to the clear, I said early last Fall that the Council had to go and their 3 direct reports. It warms my heart that many are finally coming around.

  2. The Clerk’s tenure is mandated by state law if she is reappointed after an initial three-year term. A tenured clerk is still subject to removal for good cause. The Deputy Clerk is appointed by the Manager, not the Council.
    FYI, the Council appoints the Manager, Clerk, Township Attorney, Assistant Township Attorney and Chief Financial Officer. The Council, by law, is not permitted to meddle in any personnel appointments other than its direct hires.

  3. “The Clerk’s tenure is mandated by state law IF she is reappointed after initial three-year term.” – Ira Karasick (emphasis mine)

    Emphasis added. “Removed for good cause?” You can’t be serious! There are plenty of good causes right now to not reappoint her and to not have to deal with continued problems! Hey Ira: We know she is a former secretary of you and then Stafford but, please, have some respect for residents’ justified outrage over your protege’s poor performance and non-performance.

    I, for one, don’t care to have my OPRAs ignored/delayed and I don’t care to have to wait for meeting minutes ad infinitum (she stretched it to a whole year at one time).

    One more question for Ira: Isn’t there a state law that says minutes MUST be done, including minutes from closed session (less detailed)? Isn’t there an Appellate Division ruling that says it’s a very grave offense for Clerk to not do minutes for 6 months? Nieves opted out of doing minutes for AN ENTIRE YEAR. Why don’t you weigh in on that? You presided over that particular dereliction of duty so I can see how you may have a case of convenient amnesia.

    Ira, I suggest you be less selective in which laws you cite and which you don’t. Making such skewed selections is likely to dent your reputation and your credibility. Be guided accordingly.

  4. What is with Rubacki’s obsession to chime in on every single topic, even when he has no clue? Frank, the LAW says that minutes are to be approved without any delays, i.e. at the following council/board meeting. Whether a Frank Rubacky of Montclair or a Joe Doe of Anytown needs those minutes is irrelevant. Others do and, more importantly, the law mandates that they be timely posted. End of story.

    Further, for you, Frank, to say that only minutes from conference meetings (previously not streamed) were needed is absurd. Even though video recordings of all meetings are now available to those who aren’t able to attend or watch live, who has time to sit and watch a meeting that lasts 6 hours? I – and many others – want minutes that summarize what transpired. I can read those in 10 minutes and get the gist.

    Curiously, someone else posted here a while back that after Nieves got appointed in September of 2020, she opted out of doing minutes for an entire year. Incredible! I also remember seeing a post to that effect by Cary Africk on another platform. It was absolutely criminal for Nieves to not do minutes all this time! I’m surprised no one sued – it would have been an easy win. Why did this Council allow it? Why didn’t Stafford say something? Why didn’t Ira Karasick? Oh wait, I forgot, Nieves used to work for them before getting the big chair. I’m sure it was just a coincidence that they let it slide.

    Doing minutes is #1 function of a Municipal Clerk. Fulfillment of OPRAs is function #2. Clearly, Ms. Nieves is not a fan of either. Makes one wonder, what DOES Ms. Nieves want to do as Town Clerk then? Terrorize her subordinates, rewrite various forms into inscrutable mess, and speak to public with contempt? Thanks, but no thanks.

  5. I agree Clerk’s Office’s performance has steadily deteriorated after Ms. Nieves got appointed. Too bad that the two ‘holdover’ employees that were there under Linda Wanat ended up leaving. Holly and Mellisa, they were both great – good ability AND good attitude.

    Like many others, I’m also concerned about minutes, OPRAs, and those “midnight resolutions”. That Clerk colluded on that infamous secret August 7th ’emergency’ meeting is truly alarming. According to accounts in the press, Nieves knew about Mr. Hartnett’s passing and about the secret meeting ahead of time. Why didn’t she IMMEDIATELY inform ALL council members?! Does she not know that she reports to a body of seven, not just to the Mayor or his Foul Four clique?

    Last but not least, why is the Clerk not in compliance with the ADA requirement that resolutions, minutes, and other electronic documents be searchable? This is a violation that went uncorrected for a long time, despite repeated prompts and inquiries. My elderly mother is vision impaired and she needs this feature which is required by law.

    Ms. Nieves: How do you explain that your documents are not ADA compliant despite numerous requests? And please do not insult our intelligence by saying you have been ‘understaffed’ all this time. You have NOT been understaffed – residents are not as stupid as you think. We follow things, especially lately. Your department is the only one that has 2 administrative assistants. It caught my attention because Bob Russo raised this at one of the council meetings. Naturally, you and the Foul Four prevailed and you got your second admin. You have MORE staff than Juliet Lee ever had. Yes the same Juliet Lee who was trained by Linda Wanat, and who did minutes and OPRAs with no issues (while getting screamed at by Stafford).

  6. “The Council, by law, is not permitted to meddle in any personnel appointments other than its direct hires.”

    The exceptions being?

  7. Jonathan Moon,

    My issue is too many citizens think it is good enough to skim the CliffsNotes. Many of thee are citizens know we have performance deficiencies throughout the municipal leadership.

    Just read the June 13th minutes – specifically that boldface paragraph on pg 9 and then skim ahead to top of pg 20, R-23-153…Item 16 from pg 9.
    OK, now open up the video record of the 6-13-23 mtg and go to the chapter on R-23-153. Can you say wow?

    Now, the Council held 23 meetings in 2022. There is no video recording – at all – for 5 of them. Yes, in this age dominated by generations that live by video. OK, old man here. Best part? There are only minutes posted for 22 of those meetings.

    For just fun, note one meeting’s minutes is posted twice and one has the wrong date.

    If you really want to have fun, we should have a discussion about Public Notice execution. As Councilor Yacobellis so helpfully pointed out, that is a function of departments working with the Clerk.

    I’m way ahead of you on the Clerk. I’ll give you some time to catch up on the rest of government.

  8. Announcement: This is a conference meeting of the Council of the Township of Montclair

    In efforts to minimize exposure to COVID-19 during the winter months the December 6, 2022 Township Council Conference Meeting will be broadcast live on Channel 34 and will be streaming live on the MontclairTV34 YouTube channel.

    How ironic. This is the Council agenda’s opening announcement of that meeting having the missing meeting minutes.

    Now combine this with he fact the online municipal code was not updated for over a year (since June of 2022). And, as of today, it is only current though April 25.

    Don’t worry, if you follow local gov’t long & close enough, you get used to it.

  9. Jonathan Moon,

    In case you have not figured it out, New Jersey was never accused of being a stickler for upholding the law. And us, the proud, the many in Montclair? Just look at the list of attorneys we are employing. And just listen to your Council we have a need for more based on what is coming in the pipeline. Wait until the school district comes back from Summer recess.

    You should pause your focus on the people and look at the big picture. Look at all that is going wrong. It is systemic. It is deep-rooted. It is unacknowledged. I more than get it. My consternation is that very few others get it. Amazingly few others.

    But, I’ll wait to see if you can get up to speed anytime soon. When it matters.

  10. Excellent reporting.
    You know what strikes me? PY was the only one who defended Clerk during one of the previous meetings when residents voiced concerns about OPRA.
    Meredith Hoffman above brought up the fact that Clerk knew ahead of time about the death of Harnett and about that wretched 8/7 meeting yet only notified the ‘right’ people on the council, i.e., Foul Four. I wonder if Spiller deployed Yacobellis to Clerk’s defense in exchange for her helping screw the 3 Councilmen who have been pushing against dishonest, secretive practices. Quid pro quo, anyone?

  11. You guys are funny — though the matter is quite serious. I was simply responding to the earlier comments which were at least partly inaccurate. I was not intending either a complete listing of the statutory duties of the Clerk or any comment on her performance since I’ve been retired (12/2/2021). Prior to that we were aware of the issues being raised, but the Clerk is an independent office, reporting only to the Council, and does not take orders and is not required to listen to advice either from the Manager or the Township Attorney. I am not sure to what extent the brand-new “interim” Manager or the recently appointed HR Director will be involved in the reappointment or not of the Clerk, so I suggest that comments/praise/criticism be directed at the seven Council members (good luck!). BTW, 3/5 is enough to win an election or obtain a supermajority in the U.S. Senate, but it gave the Southern States too much power in the pre-Civil War House of Representatives.

  12. Ira,

    Tenure is applicable for municipal positions (bifurcated?) that also have a distinct & direct responsibility to the State or a State authorized entity?

  13. Frank, Tenure is a creation of state law and is in general a method of protecting certain offices against political interference and establishing a level of independence. For example, the Clerk, Tax Collector, Tax Assessor, Chief Financial Officer, Police and Fire Chief, and Construction Code Official and possibly others I am not remembering right now, have some form of tenure, including protection against any salary reduction aimed only at them. CNA’s (collective bargaining agreements with unions)also protect other employees from arbitrary firing. And while tenured employees can be fired for cause, it’s a tough row to hoe.

  14. Frank’s date points and missives about the Clerk are spot on. Let’s also remember that when these complaints and noted job failures first started to appear on Facebook and at public hearings, Councilor Yacobellis, who is again quoted here providing an HR morality lesson, wrote and/or said something to the affect about: “not questioning the integrity of our staff.”

    He was effectively defending her at the time, while residents began outing the the Clerk’s withholding of requested timely OPRA information. Some of it believed to be potentially embarrassing to both him and to other Councilors.

    Now, Yacobellis wants to keep all public complaints about the Clerk’s performance just within the Council’s purview. To suppress any public scrutiny and review further. Wrong.

    Top staff hired direct by our elected Councils (like the Clerk) are “public” employees — those few department heads. And as such, their job performance should be and is, much more open to public comment. As opposed to an assistant, or a secretary within their departments.

    Old adage lesson to be remembered by all: You can run, but you still can’t hide…

  15. Right. Except that to be fired “for cause” as a tenured employee you need to be a serial killer or a child molester. Non-performance is not a sufficient offense to remove a tenured employee.

  16. Here’s the statute concerning clerk’s responsibilities and appointment/reappointment rules/regs:

    Someone mentioned earlier case law regarding the obligation to post minutes, including those from executive sessions. Ira or Calvin or Darnell – can any of you cite the case(s)?

    Of note is that, last I checked, the minutes from the infamous August 7th ’emergency’ meeting have STILL not been posted despite the fact that there was a council meeting mid-month. Yes, we all heard the audio – it’s only 8 minute-long. Still and all, Ms. Nieves: The law says you are to have the meeting minutes done, approved, and posted at the following meeting. Why are you not doing it? As someone else above said, you are not ‘understaffed/shorthanded’ or otherwise compromised. If anything, you seem to have more resources and support than any Clerk before you. What gives?

  17. Thanks for the tutorial Ira. Very much appreciate it.

    I am honestly dumbfounded those making a ruckus over the minutes issue while these same posters gave the Council a pass on the streaming of meeting and remote comment. I’d like protesting cluster munitions while saying whatever to battlefield nuclear weapons. OK, a little hyperbole but this has to be fun for me.

    What is amusing is where this all is going…and it is really not about the Clerk. That is a 30 second debate and quick decision. What we will likely see is a slate of candidates, well funded, that will pursue a run for the council predicated on a ballot referendum to change our form of government.

    Not very original. Derivative mindset loosely models on the Vote Montclair bandwagon thingy so many jump on…and then spun being taken into a good thing.
    Same ol’, same ol’. Newness. Fresh starts. We are not our parent’s generation. We don’t want our parent’s government. And we will civically engage to make sure.
    The MHS CGI should do a study on this local phenomenon. Worst case, they turn it into a theater production (a comedy, of course) – the first for the new MHS auditorium. Yes, the same people that brought us Woodman Field before the science labs, classrooms and (above the title billing) HVAC.

  18. Thanks for posting, Ira. Wow. I wonder what John Paff would think of Montclair Clerk’s approach to OPRA and OPMA…

  19. Wasn’t this Clerk already penalized in the past for not doing her job right? I remember we were penalized heftily for her arbitrary and capricious acts in the rent control petition lawsuit. It was like $100K. I am a supporter of rent control and I’m glad it passed. But we could have gotten it without to pay for rookie Clerk arbitrary and capricious decisions. I wonder if she is driving her staff away with that same attitude.

    Frank Rubacki is correct on the need for this Council to replace its 3 direct hires (Clerk, attorney, manager), with the need to replace Clerk being the most dire given her impending tenure.

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