The latest in the Memphis the pit bull saga has the Bloomfield council and Board of Health (BOH) once again pitted against each other.
In a letter dated Oct. 1 and addressed to Mayor Raymond McCarthy, BOH attorney Ronald J. Ricci accused the council of "overstepping its boundaries and passing resolutions which support a group who is threatening and defaming public employees and the animal shelter under the control of the Bloomfield Board of Health."
The council last week passed a resolution proposing the township's attorney draft some sort of settlement, Bloomfield Life reported, to end a months-long feud between the township, BOH and dog trainers
Memphis, a gold-colored pit bull found as a stray, has been at the center of Bloomfield brouhaha since he was taken in by the town's John A. Bukowski animal shelter in February.
A $1 million civil action lawsuit has been filed by the Lexus Project against the township on Coltenback's behalf, though the Bloomfield resident said he is not listed as a plaintiff, according to Bloomfield Life.
BOH has filed a motion to dismiss that suit because it "lacks any merit," according to Ricci's letter. The mayor read the letter aloud at Monday night's regular meeting, jammed with dozens rallying for the adoption of Memphis.
On Sept. 20, BOH unanimously voted to place Memphis under the control of the Neighbor to Neighbor Network, a volunteer branch within the Department of Health and Human Services, which moved the dog to an undisclosed area. That decision, the letter stated, was "based on the fact that Memphis underwent three separate evaluations by dog behavior experts. All three evaluations indicated that Memphis was not adoptable at the present time."
The Department of Health and Human Services, overseen by the BOH, is an autonomous department that manages the town's animal shelter.
Over the summer, Memphis had been taken in by Coltenback, who specializes in pit bull rehabilitation, but was returned after he was accused of violating his contract by allegedly having the dog around children. Coltenback has vehemently denied those claims.
"No one was ever in harm's way when we had him and no one will ever be in harm's way if we get him back," he said Monday night, adding that he did not know where the dog was being held.
He said the first hearing of the Lexus suit, originally scheduled for Oct. 5, has been postponed to Nov. 9 in Essex County Superior Court.
"We just want the dog back," said Coltenback.
For several consecutive weeks, supporters of Memphis have picketed outside town hall prior to council meetings wearing "Save Memphis" tee shirts and waving signs. The story of Memphis has become somewhat of an internet sensation, inspiring Facebook groups and online petitions with tens of thousands of signatures and drawing support from overseas.
But back home, it has sparked vicious behavior, with several residents accusing others of slander and making threats. McCarthy Monday night denounced the circulation of doctored pictures of Director of the Department of Health and Human Services Karen Lore and public comments made against her.
"This is just not right to try to do damage to somebody," said McCarthy. "I'm not taking sides. This is (about) protecting Karen."
A handful of speakers pleaded with the council Monday night to finally put an end to the Memphis madness.
"I see our town getting torn apart to shreds over this," said Joe Del Guidice. "This is starting to become a cloud that encompasses everything else."
Meanwhile, others called for the council to take action against the BOH, an appointed board.
"You guys appointed the Board of Health, you can dismiss the Board of Health," said Pat Gilleran to the council.
[Editor's note: This story originally published at 5:50 a.m. Tuesday. It has since been updated.]