‘Ministerial Lapse’ in Haddonfield Zoning Board Appointments Could Expose Body to Legal Challenges


The appointments of two members of the borough land use board had expired some 13 months before they were re-authorized by the municipal government in July.

By Matt Skoufalos | August 17, 2022

An organizational error that allowed the appointments of two Haddonfield Zoning Board members and two alternate members to lapse could expose the borough government to legal liabilities stemming from that oversight.

On July 25, the Haddonfield municipal government approved a number of appointments to various local bodies in town, including to its planning and zoning boards.

Among those re-appointed at that meeting were Zoning Board members Brian Mulholland and Bryan Pukenas, and alternate members Kasra Ghodoussipour and Lindsey Watson‐McCarthy.

All four had been continuously active, voting members of the board despite their appointments having not been renewed formally prior to the July meeting: Mulholland’s and Pukenas’ terms were up in May 2021, and Ghodoussipour’s and Watson‐McCarthy’s ended in June 2022.

Haddonfield Mayor Colleen Bianco Bezich confirmed that the appointments had expired prior to the action taken at that July 25 meeting, and without the awareness of the governing body.

Bianco Bezich described the error as a “ministerial lapse,” and said that the borough would address it.

“The borough dropped the ball on at least two appointments for the Zoning Board,” the mayor said. “It’s a mistake, and we have to correct it.”

In the 13 months during which the four members actively participated in board meetings, facilitated quorums, and voted on rulings, only a handful of decisions handed down by the Zoning Board were not unanimous, either in the affirmative or the negative.

In a review of the board minutes available through the Haddonfield Borough website, some key decisions, however, were narrow enough to potentially expose the board to legal challenges.

These include a pair of 3-3 tied votes on interpretation of the borough downtown parking statute on July 20, 2021; a 4-2 variance denial on March 15, 2022; and a 4-3 variance approval on May 17, 2022.

The full impact of the oversight is as yet unknown.

Frank Marshall, associate general counsel for the New Jersey League of Municipalities, said he is unaware of any specific consequences for appointment lapses as defined by statute, but that they could open the door for a potential challenge to any decision the board made during that time.

According to New Jersey Zoning and Land Use Administration, widely considered the foremost authority on the state land use law, authors William M. Cox and Stuart R. Koenig offer “Model Rules for a Zoning Board of Adjustment,” including the grounds by which board members should recuse themselves.

These note that when a land-use board member “fails to disqualify himself” from the proceedings, “any interested party may move the Board for an order or determination that such member is or was disqualified to act and may, even after entry of judgment, seek the vacation of the judgment and rehearing or other appropriate relief.”

Cox and Koenig don’t directly contemplate whether that recusal is contingent upon the members knowing whether they are or are not acting within their term limits, however.

Haddonfield Zoning Board Solicitor Jennifer Johnson did not respond to requests for comment.

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