Ravi Bhalla Ethics Violations
Irony rules the day for Ravi Bhalla ethics violations
Hudson County TV was in attendance on Thursday night for the Hoboken City Council meeting. During the meeting they interviewed Council members Mason and Castellano, who sponsored a resolution regarding the conflict of interest caused by Ravi Bhalla taking a job with a law firm that held contracts with Hoboken. According to sources, Bhalla refused to be interviewed for the story calling it “defamatory.”
Does anyone else find it ironic that Bhalla is claiming defamation when the Zimmer Administration attempts to smear anyone who dares to speak out against it? Two years ago, Bhalla defended Zoning Board member Pincus’ right to say that she wanted to shoot down the front doors to people’s homes. Now he is trying to silence people from questioning him about taking a job with a law firm that represents Hoboken.
Anyone else see the irony?
Cunningham continues to quash Bhalla ethics investigation
Last night’s City Council meeting was once again a demonstration of how NOT to treat residents you work for. And it’s apparent the Zimmer “administration” is working feverishly to protect Councilman Ravi “Pay to Play” Bhalla, who many are trying to call out due to unethical actions not fitting for an official position like that. Here’s what Councilwoman Beth Mason sent out today regarding the mockery our city government has become:
“I want to take this opportunity to update you on the latest City Council meeting. At the meeting Council President Cunningham refused to allow a vote on a resolution regarding an ethics investigation that I have requested due to the recent job acquisition by Councilman Ravi Bhalla. In August, it was revealed that Mr. Bhalla accepted a high-paying partnership job with a politically active law firm, which received City contracts in 2012 and 2013 worth tens-of-thousands of dollars. Mr. Bhalla cast his vote in favor of both of these contracts.
However, the Council President is so desperate to quash any public discussion of this matter he had a Hoboken resident removed by the police after the resident spoke out against Mr. Bhalla. The fact that the Zimmer Administration is going to such great lengths to deny public access leads to a simple question. What are they hiding?
(Video of what happened as resident Perry Belfiore tried “shining” light on naughty Bhalla.)
“Councilman Bhalla accused me of having a personal vendetta against him. Nothing could be further from the truth. Four years ago, I endorsed Mr. Bhalla in the runoff election for City Council. He said at the time that he shared my belief that we have a right to know how our tax dollars are being spent and that he would work to make sure our government represented all the people of Hoboken. I admired his apparent commitment to open and inclusive government.
Shortly after taking office, local newspapers reported that Bhalla made maximum campaign contributions that resulted in him receiving hundreds-of-thousands of dollars in no-bid legal contracts. Mr. Bhalla also voted to give a contract to an attorney that he had a business relationship with despite protests from members of the City Council and the public. Now he is facing a Notice of Violation from the State Local Finance Board for breaking the Local Government Ethics Law.
My position is simple: The public has a right to know how a sitting Councilman ended up becoming a partner in a law firm that does business with the City of Hoboken. When did Mr. Bhalla begin negotiating with the firm? Did the Mayor, any members of the City Council, or the City Attorney know that Mr. Bhalla was in negotiations with a firm that was doing business with the city? Why didn’t he disclose to the public that he was negotiating to get a high-paying job with a law firm that he voted to give two contracts?
These are not unreasonable questions, so again I ask, what is the Zimmer Administration hiding?”
More Bhalla Antics in Hoboken – Administration protects the unethical
It seems that the Zimmer Administration is going full-tilt to protect the ethics-violating Ravi Bhalla from receiving “official” negative attention (oh, never mind it’s almost election day…)
They apparently are trying to block a resolution from making this Thursday’s council meeting.
Taxpayer Funds Being Used To Stop Public Discussion of
Shady Dealings at Hoboken City Hall
The Resolution The Mayor Doesn’t Want You to See!
“Imagine a city councilman, already facing charges of ethics violations, casting numerous votes to award no-bid contracts and pay bills worth tens of thousands of dollars to a professional services vendor to that city. Then, imagine that councilman’s running mate pushing for the award of a lucrative contract with a city authority to that very same vendor. Next, imagine that councilman accepting a six-figure job, with that very same vendor, mere weeks later. Finally, imagine the councilman’s allies in the city administration using taxpayer funds to prevent any public discussion or investigation into that councilman’s actions.
In Hoboken, that disturbing scenario is not imaginary, it is reality. Councilman Ravinder Bhalla, already facing a Notice of Violation from the State Local Finance Board for breaking the Local Government Ethics Law, has accepted a high-paying partnership with the politically active law firm of Florio, Perrucci, Steinhardt & Fader, which has received City contracts in 2012 and 2013 worth tens of thousands of dollars. Mr. Bhalla voted for those contracts, as well as to pay the many legal bills resulting from these contracts. To date, he has never publicly explained when he first started discussing becoming partners with this firm or whether his votes were intended to curry favor with a potential employer. Meanwhile, Mr. Bhalla’s running mate, David Mello, has been fighting for a contract for this firm worth more than $60,000 at the Hoboken Housing Authority.
Allegedly, when Mr. Bhalla joined the Florio firm, it stopped representing the City. Even Mayor Zimmer has been quoted as stating “if one of the City’s outside attorneys were to announce a candidacy for City Council, I don’t think anyone would question whether it would become inappropriate for that lawyer to continue representing the City of Hoboken.” [September 29, 2013].
Yet on September 6, 2013, a court decision was handed down by the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division listing the City’s attorney as – you guessed it – Florio Perrucci, Steinhardt & Fader.
There is no evidence available that the firm ever removed itself from this case, as it should have done under attorney ethics rules and the Local Government Ethics Law. It is unclear what legal work the Florio firm has been doing for the City since the date it first discussed becoming partners with Mr. Bhalla.
Faced with these disturbing facts, Councilwoman Elizabeth Mason (2nd Ward) and Councilwoman Theresa Castellano (1st Ward) have drafted a resolution calling for the Council to address this serious matter and for the appropriate ethics authorities to commence their own review as to whether the relationship between Mr. Bhalla and the Florio firm was at all times appropriate.
This resolution was timely submitted to the City Clerk to be heard at the Council meeting on October 17, 2013. Late Friday afternoon, Corporation Counsel Melissa Longo, on City time and using City funds, sent an unauthorized and grossly inappropriate group e-mail to the entire City Council, as well as the Mayor, defending Mr. Bhalla and advocating for the resolution to be voted down. She also falsely claimed it had been received after the deadline for the submission of resolutions. Then, she unilaterally refused to place the resolution on the agenda. Ms. Longo, of course, as responsible for oversight of all of the City’s outside attorneys, should recuse herself from this matter. Her actions are in violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the Open Public Meetings Act. Councilwoman Mason intends to advise the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office of Ms. Longo’s inappropriate e-mail and request that it determine whether there have been any OPMA violations.
At this point, given Longo’s interference with the legislative process, it is not clear whether the resolution will be heard at the meeting on October 17th.
“The public has an absolute right to know all of the circumstances as to how a Councilman suddenly became partners with a major City vendor,” stated Councilwoman Mason. “Councilman Bhalla has a
history of shady behavior, so I expected the Mayor, Mr. Bhalla and their Council allies to do anything in their power to stop this discussion. But this time they have gone too far. The people of Hoboken have made it loud and clear that they are tired of politicians in City Hall using their offices for their own benefit, rather than the benefit of our community.”
A copy of the proposed resolution is attached. Backup documentation is available by contacting Councilwoman Mason at (201)-916-8244.
Bhalla vote “argument” dead – Kates conflict of interest
We will present this damning piece of evidence with limited commentary. But please note that while the administration “reformers” were trying to “justify” Ravi Bhalla’s unethical vote to award his butt-buddy Paul Condon a lucrative property taxpayer funded contract, they (over-confidently) “fell back” on the fact that then Corporation Counsel Michael Kates “gave it the green light.”
Well – after probably hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars the city spent trying desperately to defend Kates – the NJ Supreme Court ruled that Michael Kates, as well as Ed Buzak also violated ethics laws, and were slapped with a conflict of interest ruling last week (PDF).
Yes the Supreme Court. The top. As far as it goes in NJ.
So the “lifeline” the city administration continually uses by employing a Corporation Counsel that solely defends what the administration wants, instead of acting in accordance with the ACTUAL LAW – has backfired.
Resolution rejected by current Counsel Melissa Longo
Lastly – a few members of the City Council saw the atrocity in this process, and felt bad for residents of Hoboken for “footing the bill” of this ego-trip the Zimmer administration has been on in the desperation to come out on the winning side. They drafted a resolution to make KATES and company personally responsible for the cost of this expensive lawsuit against the city. Sounds sensible to you, doesn’t it?
Well – the current lemming Corporation Counsel (Melissa Longo) WOULD NOT EVEN ALLOW the members of the city council to bring forward a piece of legislation that would help YOU the residents.
How cocky and brazen is that? Are you sick of it yet?
Read the resolution that NEVER saw the light of day because the Zimmer administration refused to allow our government to function normally (PDF) – unless it is within the rules of the “administration” or their desired outcome(s). Remember, these people ARE EMPLOYEES OF THE CITIZENS. So get off your phones, and start giving a damn.
Very embarrassing for the City of Hoboken…
Why would you support a covertly corrupt Hoboken government?
You ever wonder why anyone would give Mayor Zimmer and her allies another 4 years pretending to run a government? Or how they even still have supporters in the face ethic violations, failed promises, and weak leadership? With all the “fishy business” recently in the news – Hoboken resident Perry Belfiore wants to remind residents about the incredible “silence” that takes place when certain politicians are called out at face value.
Hypocrisy from Bhalla, Zimmer, the whole gang
The positional ethics displayed by Dawn Zimmer’s group of pseudo-reformers has always been a marvel. As if a Delphic Precon Minority Report ignored, all associated with my good friend Peter Camarrano have been repeatedly tried and convicted in the court of “Guilt By Association” while the entire Zimmer Administration, including indoctrinated commenters defend, enable and facilitate the unethical business dealings of Councilman-at-Large Ravi Bhalla.
The facts: in 2008 the local paper wrote of Ravi’s “Pay to Play” violation in Union City where $2,400 donated to a Union City Pac netted $127,000 in no-bid contracts, ditto Newark, April 2010, where $2,500 netting $120,000 in no-bid contracts was cited by Citizens Campaign Founder, Harry Pozycki. Zimmer’s reaction? Stonewalling while zealous online puppets mauled anyone raising questions.
In May 2010 standing before the council questioning the legality of Bhalla’s vote to award a no bid contract to leasehold partner, Paul Condon, I joined the fray. While Zimmer allies defended Ravi the question regarding the “Conflict” was put to Corporation Counsel Michael Kates. Kates, opined a conflict is “subjective.” That is, one must believe there is a conflict, for a conflict to exist. Kates recently lost a decision, regarding Hoboken Zoning before the New Jersey Supreme Court because, wait for it, HE HAD A CONFLICT OF INTEREST.
Witnessing this absurdity I took the Bhalla facts to the NJ Department Of Community Affairs and on August 27, 2013 a violation of Pay to Play was issued to Ravi. Paul Condon who is in his 3rd year of the initial ”no bid” contract didn’t walk away unscathed as “Pay to Play” violations have been lodged against him for exceeding donation caps and having an employees of his firm donate to Dawn.
But this is prologue. At the Hoboken Housing Authority a brawl enveloping most of the Zimmer Administration rages. Feigning dissatisfaction with current Board Counsel, in violation of HUD Procurement Policy, an “ad hoc” sub-committee of three Zimmer appointees (Jake Stuiver, Dave Mello and Greg Lincoln) secretly empaneled to evaluate RFPs for Legal Services. Although confusing and the subject of a lawsuit, in February, the subcommittee, absent any metric of Rating and Ranking attempted to force appointing, the highest bidding law firm, Florio Perrucci etal, based solely on” Comfort.” The resolution failed but at the subsequent city council meeting, the Florio Perrucci etal firm saw it’s City Contract increase by $35,000. In advocating the increase Corporation Counsel Melissa Longo also cited “Comfort.”
What’s my hang up with Florio Perrucci? In August, Ravi Bhalla announced partnering with this city vendor and questions abound. In February thru April when Ravi was at HHA meetings was he in negotiations to merge with Florio Perrucci? Did Dave Mello as City Councilman and Melisa Longo, Corporation Counsel, bind the Zimmer Administration in furtherance of Ravi’s economic betterment?
How is Ravi a sitting Councilman also a city vendor? What does Stan and Dawn know? If the standard is the mere appearance of a conflict of interest constitutes a conflict of interest haven’t we passed this a long time ago?
My comments at the September 3rd council were met with silence and unprofessional snickering from Bhalla. The people of Hoboken deserve better than stonewalling and hypocrisy.
By keeping Ravi on her ticket Dawn continues to lower the bar on ethics for public officials.
Ravi Bhalla slapped with pay to play ethics violations
Took a few years, but the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs Local Finance Board ruled that At-large Councilman Ravi Bhalla indeed violated his oath of office when he voted to give his buddy Paul Condon a legal contract in Hoboken.
Keep that in mind when you vote this coming November. Do you want these corrupt people in the Zimmer administration spending your property tax dollars?
FLASH: Ethics Complaint filed against Ravi Bhalla
The ethical firestorm surrounding Councilman Ravinder S. Bhalla may be headed for a state investigation.
Peter “Perry” Belfiore has filed a complaint against Bhalla with the Division of Local Government Services. It outlines the circumstances surrounding Bhalla’s vote to award his office-mate Paul Condon a no-bid city contract.
Belfiore: Bhalla broke Local Government Ethics Law
The specific provisions of the Local Government Ethics Law Belfiore believes Bhalla violated include:
40A:9-22.5a, which says that “no local government officer or employee or member of his immediate family shall have an interest in a business organization or engage in any business, transaction, or professional activity, which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his duties in the public interest,”
40A:9-22.5c, which says that “no local government officer or employee shall use or attempt to use his official position to secure unwarranted privileges or advantages for himself or others,”
40A:9-22.5d, which says that “no local government officer or employee shall act in his official capacity in any matter where he, a member of his immediate family, or a business organization in which he has an interest, has a direct or indirect financial or personal involvement that might reasonably be expected to impair his objectivity or independence of judgment,” and possibly several others.
Is Bhalla “understating” his business ties?
Belfiore says, “I strongly suspect that Mr. Bhalla is significantly understating his business ties to Mr. Condon, with respect to such typical office costs as office furniture and equipment, utility and phone bills, and many more. It would also be common for people in their situation to refer business to each other. Additionally, if they share a computer, fax or filing system, I believe under attorney ethics rules that they may be treated as if they were actual law partners. Without a full investigation, it is impossible to tell the true depths of their business relationship.” The complaint also references City Attorney Michael Kates’ effort to exonerate Bhalla. Kates serves at the will of Mayor Dawn Zimmer, who ran with Bhalla.
Ethics complaint follows Pay-to-Play controversy
Bhalla has lucrative public contracts, but failed to file the proper Business Entitity disclosure forms with the state ELEC commission for three years. As a public contractor and attorney, Belfiore says this means, “conflict of interest standards should not be alien to him.” Belfiore is a former member of the Hoboken Board of Education who lost a City Council runoff election in 2007.
Bhalla under fire, Cunningham still mum
If you caught the front page of the Hoboken Reporter this weekend, you saw a familiar story – with some new twists.
A picture of Councilman-at-Large Ravi Bhalla sits under the headline “Conflicts and Campaign Money.” The March 7th Reporter (which was incorrectly stated as the “March 3rd” edition) followed up on the story broken here first on February 26th. As usual, the weekly fish wrap gave Hoboken411 no credit, but I’m used to that. To show we’re bigger than their petty jealousy of 411’s far larger Hoboken readership, we’ll give them credit for holding Bhalla’s feet to the fire and forcing him to answer questions that only strengthened the case against him.
The story of council conflicts that won’t go away
Bhalla made it clear he wouldn’t respond to Hoboken411, hoping the story would just go away. Wrong again Councilman. There’s too much to the Condon Conflicts to ignore. You already know Bhalla approved a $29,000 no-bid city contract for friend and officemate Paul Condon without even so much of as a public mention of his relationship. When called on it, Bhalla’s initial public comments might have left some with the impression he has no financial entanglements whatsoever with Condon. It turns out that’s not true. Under repeated questioning, Bhalla was forced to admit the following to reporter Tim Carroll:
- Despite an internet damage control campaign to the contrary, Bhalla and Condon signed a JOINT, three-year lease for the suite they share. Bhalla admitted if one were to default on the lease, the other would have to pay.
- Bhalla and Condon also share an employee in the form of a receptionist who handles business for both attorneys.
- Bhalla and Condon also share office equipment and supplies, which cost money.
Digging the hole deeper and deeper
Bhalla claims that since technically his and Condon’s law firms are separate entities, “There was no conflict, and in my sound judgment there was no appearance of a conflict.”
Same office. Same lease. Same receptionist. Same office equipment and supplies. Long-standing personal and professional relationship. No conflict in voting to give a no-bid contract? That doesn’t sound like “Change that’s Working” Councilman.
That sounds like same-old, same-old.
Official Condon review underway
Much has happened since Hoboken411 broke the news Friday night of the City Council conflicts and apparent Pay-to-Play violation in the award of a no-bid contract to attorney Paul Condon.
The authors of Hoboken’s Pay-to-Play ordinance at People for Open Government have opened an investigation, one Councilwoman expressed outrage at the report, and Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s new Corporation Counsel is looking into the charges. Let’s get you caught up…
Upon further review, Condon gave $1250 to Cunningham
Our initial report indicated Paul Condon’s wife Renee Condon gave Peter Cunningham a $750 contribution for his 2007 campaign for 5th ward Council. It turns out a second, $500 contribution was made for Cunningham’s runoff election. The $1250 given by a family member of an eventual City professional services contractor is $950 more than the $300 limit allowed in Hoboken’s Pay-to-Play contracting reform ordinance. Cunningham took his seat on the council on July 1, 2007.
Paul Condon was initially hired by Mayor David Roberts in February 2008 to prosecute the SWAT-related charges against Police Lieutenant Angelo Andriani. As part of POG’s investigation about the revelations in my report, former POG President Eric Kurta went to City Hall to investigate. Among his initial findings:
“Mr. Condon did enter into an agreement to provide legal services to the city for a one-year period beginning February 28, 2008. The contributions made by Mr. Condon’s spouse, Renee Condon, were dated 3/30/07 ($750) and 5/31/07 ($500) and are within the one-year period prior to entering into an agreement, wherein contributions are limited to $300 or less.
Though the amount of the contract was for less than that of the state’s bidding threshold, it was nonetheless defined as a professional services agreement and thereby bound to comply with the P2P ordinance. This has been brought to the attention of Mr. Kates, Hoboken Corporation Counsel who will report his conclusions to the Mayor and City Council sooner rather than later, I would imagine.”– Eric Kurta
This means under the Pay-to-Play law, Renee Condon’s $1250 donation to Cunningham legally precluded Paul Condon from accepting the no-bid professional services contract within one calendar year. Condon has been prosecuting the long, drawn out SWAT case against Andriani for over two years, which is believed to be the longest disciplinary hearing in Hoboken history.
2010 case separate from 2008 charges
It shouldn’t be missed that City Attorney Kates stressed the new, no-bid $29,000 contract awarded to Condon on the recommendation of Mayor Zimmer is legally a new charge against Andriani which is not directly connected to the SWAT charges. Kates stressed the two cases are separate, and will use separate hearing judges. Condon’s familiarity with the SWAT case has no bearing on whether he should prosecute the Florida Airport badge-waving allegations. Kates was clear on this point, and it’s all on the meeting video.
The question now is when, not “if” P2P law was violated
City Council members are elected for four years, but a convenient quirk in POG’s law only limits contributions to from city contractors for one year after the contribution is made.
The one-year prohibition is buried in the law, and was admittedly missed in our original story, which indicated the Pay-to-Play law would ban a 2010 contract following a 2007 contribution. In fact it does not. Consider that accidental omission corrected and regretted – and realistically an enormous loophole in the ordinance.
However, the law says if a vendor violates the Pay-to-Play law they are banned from contracting with Hoboken for four years. Since the 2007 contribution made the 2008 contract illegal under the Pay-to-Play law, this puts the status of both of Condon’s contracts in question.
Cunningham and Bhalla’s personal and business ties to Condon are outlined in the original Hoboken411 exclusive that broke this story wide open below…
(411 Note: Some of the information below has been revised and updated above.)
Council conflicts and Pay-to-Play violation uncovered
Last week the Hoboken City Council awarded a $29,000 no-bid contract to Hoboken attorney Paul Condon. City council watchers say two members of Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s majority should have abstained from the vote due to their conflicts of interest. Instead they voted with the rest of the council without a peep. A responsible press reports on the conflicts of politicians who hold elective office, especially those who campaigned against the crony/pay-to-play culture that has existed for so long.
Hoboken411 presents the facts:
Condon’s connections to Bhalla and Cunningham
Paul Condon’s law office is located in Suite 4A at 33-41 River Street. Councilman-at-Large Ravi Bhalla’s law office is also located in Suite 4A at 33-41 River Street. Condon and Bhalla share an office, putting them in a business relationship that should have been disclosed to the public before Bhalla voted in favor of awarding the no-bid Special Legal Counsel contract to Condon. Bhalla never mentioned his relationship with Condon during the discussion of the resolution, and voted yes when he should have abstained.
Cunningham’s conflicts: business and campaign cash
Fifth Ward Councilman Peter Cunningham’s wife Jen works at Hudson Place Realty. Paul Condon’s wife Renee works at Hudson Place Realty. Jen Cunningham and Renee Condon have on occasion jointly offered and marketed Real Estate for sale, creating a business relationship that goes beyond simply working for the same agency. In addition, Renee Condon made a $750 campaign contribution to Peter Cunningham’s election fund in 2007. This contribution is in violation of the contractor Pay-to-Play ordinance advanced by People for Open Government.
What does POG’s ordinance say about this kind of contribution?
You can read the whole ordinance here. It says the law bans contributions to Hoboken candidates from business entities (including individuals, family members, firms of all types and affiliates) prior to receiving professional services contracts with the City of Hoboken. That limit is $300 per year to a candidate like Peter Cunningham, who accepted $750 from Renee Condon, wife of Paul Condon, who was just awarded a no-bid public contract by the Zimmer Administration.
Cunningham’s action also opened the city up to a lawsuit, according to the POG ordinance:
SECTION 7 CITIZENS PRIVATE RIGHT OF ACTION: Notwithstanding any other common right of law, any Hoboken citizen or citizens group shall have the right to sue any or all entities in violation of this ordinance, including the business entity awarded a contract or agreement to provide “professional services” or “extraordinary unspecified services”, the candidate or committee as specified in subsection 1(a) above, and/or the City Hoboken, in order to compel those entities to comply with this ordinance.
Condon’s political activities
Paul Condon is no stranger to Hoboken politics. In 2004 he ran an unsuccessful campaign for Board of Education, and considered a bid – but did not run – for City Council in 2007. Last week he was awarded a no-bid contract to be the Special Legal Counsel handling the matter of suspended police Lieutenant Angelo Andriani’s activities in a Florida airport. Under New Jersey law a “professional services contract” of $29,000 or less does not need to go out for public bidding. The Mayor has the power to recommend an attorney for a council vote. In this case it was Condon, whose relationships with Bhalla and Cunningham go far deeper than they’ve disclosed.