Former city employee Stacie Percella is running for Bayonne City Council.
Percella, a deputy register from 2001 to 2016, filed a lawsuit against Mayor James Davis in 2018, alleging that Davis engaged her in allegedly “sexting” text message conversations. The suit also alleges that Percella was fired in retaliation for filing a federal lawsuit against the Mark Smith Administration in 2014.
All claims in the 2014 federal lawsuit, except for the hostile work environment claim, were dismissed but are under appeal. But the lawsuit in Hudson County claims Davis allegedly offered her a $150,000 settlement in the federal suit in exchange for a sexual relationship.
Additionally, the lawsuit alleges hostile environment discrimination, due to Percella’s actions as a vice president of the local civil service employee’s union, and because she rebuffed Davis’s alleged sexual overtures.
The “sexting” lawsuit was dismissed in Hudson County Superior Court in February of 2020 when Judge Kimberly Espinales-Maloney determined that Percella and her attorney had “willfully” been ignoring discovery deadlines, stating that discovery was “on a road to nowhere.”
However, the case was brought back to life this year by a state appellate court. The Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division reinstated the case in May of 2021, arguing that these issues should not have led to the lawsuit being dismissed with prejudice, and that the case should have been dismissed only as a “last resort.”
Percella made the announcement that she would challenge Third Ward City Councilman Gary La Pelusa at the February council meeting during the public comment portion.
“All you people use people, that’s why you have all these single applicants running for council,” Percella said, following a back-and-forth between officials described below. “And I am one of them.”
Percella announced her run for council followings calls for Law Director Jay Coffey and Assistant City Attorney Donna Russo to resign. Using audio recordings of Coffey and Russo, Percella alleged the two were abusive to other city employees. She said it was a violation of city policy and repeatedly called on both to resign.
Percella alleges abusive behavior
Holding her cellphone to the microphone, Percella played two separate audio recordings that she alleged were grounds for them to be removed from their positions. The first recording was of Russo, who Percella claimed threatened to punch another employee.
“I would like to know why this employee is still employed by the city of Bayonne but threatening another employee that she would punch them in the face,” Percella said.
In response, Coffey said that Russo did not threaten anyone.
“She did not,” Coffey said. “Her quote was: ‘If I was coming at you, I would punch you in the face.’ … He accused her of coming at him and she said: ‘No, if I was coming at you, I would punch you in the face.’”
The discourse, often heated at times, played out in front of a group of local Boy Scouts who were in attendance for a merit badge as well as a number of union workers who there to speak on redevelopment and labor. During the exchange, Coffey and Percella and frequently spoke over each other uninterrupted, with Percella repeatedly calling on Coffey to resign.
“How much vulgar language is allowed to be coming from this administration? The employee handbook specifically states one instance of harassment is harassment. She is one of the harassment officers and she is doing the harassing.”
Coffey reiterated the quote was not a threat, but a clarification. The second audio recording was of Coffey, which previously came to light, regarding his opinion of Business Administrator Melissa Mathews.
“You should be fired, both of you,” Percella said. “I’ve already written to the state and the AG knows about it. Who do you think you are that you can speak to everybody else that way?… I have already sent a complaint to the state. And they will be coming up and investigating as they have stated they will. They have all the information from day one. I’m told they were already around yesterday.”
OPRA requests lead to benefits questions
In addition, Percella said that she was threatened by Coffey via letter after an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request. Coffey countered that wasn’t true and that it was a typical letter sent out when un-redacted information is accidentally released in an OPRA request.
Percella revealed the unredacted information was relating to the words “disciplinary actions” regarding an employee, but did not elaborate further. She had filed a number of requests and in seeking to fulfill them, personnel information was included by accident which prompted the letter, according to Coffey.
Later, Percella revealed the document she was given via the OPRA request was a benefits sheet that she said showed an employee was allegedly being paid benefits despite being fired. She did not elaborate further, only than to say the benefits recently ended on Jan. 31 of this year despite having been allegedly terminated in August of 2020.
“She still received benefits for two years,” Percella said. “Can you answer me that?”
“Nothing to answer here, no,” Coffey said.
After Percella persisted with her question, Coffey added: “There may be extenuating circumstances.”
When Percella asked again, in between asking Coffey to resign again, he replied: “This isn’t a question and answer period.”
Again responding to further questions about the matter from Percella, Coffey said: “If in fact, what you’re saying it true, we will deal with it. We can claw back that money.”
Percella again called on Coffey to resign, asking him to present it to City Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski. Ashe-Nadrowski then interjected that the council does not handle personnel matters.
“We are the legislative body, we cannot get involved in the administrative side. We don’t get involved in the personnel matters. Would we like to? Yes.”
Percella reiterated her calls for Coffey and Russo to resign, said she had more OPRA requests to submit now, and added that she looked forward to debating La Pelusa.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.