City Council 6/20/2007 – Preview
It was a packed house as the Hoboken City Council sat down for the final meeting of the fiscal year with contentious budget issues, questions about paying huge attorney fees, and formal farewells for only two of the departing councilmen.
Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow
At the beginning of the meeting Mayor David Roberts rose to hand out plaques to departing Council Members Richard DelBoccio and Michael Cricco. Apparently Hoboken411 is still bothering the Mayor, since he started his speech saying he understood the call to retirement in a world where the internet is full of “anonymous criticism” and the press plays “gotcha” with elected officials. People found this a little odd because unlike the Mayor and a few other council members, DelBoccio and Cricco have not been lightning rods for attack. It was more about him than about them.
Roberts thanked Cricco for his vision for the Northwest Redevelopment Plan; which he said, “brings in 4.5 million dollars in new tax revenues” to the city. Some say Roberts is obsessed by new ratables to keep his budget growing. Cricco thanked his immigrant grandparents for choosing to settle in Hoboken, and seemed relieved to be giving up the ward seat he held for 12 years.
Roberts called DelBoccio “The Dean” of the council who has been a calming, reliable force in the city for 20 years. The 2nd ward councilman said he felt fortunate to be born at 5th and Jefferson, and not in Saddle River or Englewood Cliffs, adding his family was criticized for staying in Hoboken while so many others left. He also told everyone to see “On The Waterfront” to see how life in Hoboken used to be.
What About Chris Campos?
When DelBoccio finished his speech, the tension rose as people in the room watched to see if Roberts would also hand a plaque to Chris Campos, who lost the 4th ward race by 6 votes. People looked around, and realized that the Mayor had bolted out of the room even before DelBoccio finished his speech! There was some awkward silence before County Freeholder Maurice Fitzgibbons got up to say a few words. People thought “Maybe Roberts didn’t want to say anything about Campos, so Fitzgibbons is doing it.” Nope. He just saw an opportunity to get up in front of a big crowd to say a few words about Cricco and DelBoccio, and then sat back down. Pretty typical Fitzgibbons move.
City Clerk James Farina read into the record that Dawn Zimmer, Peter Cunningham, and Nino Giacchi were the winners of the runoff election, but he did it so quickly and quietly that people didn’t respond with congratulatory applause. No comments were made on the certification, and nothing else was said during the meeting about the 4th ward race and if this was Campos’ last meeting. Campos participated in a few discussions, but seemed troubled and uncomfortable. A little after 9pm Campos asked to be excused from the meeting so he could attend a wake. Unclear if he would ever walk into the chambers again as a councilman, Campos was clearly holding back emotions as he briskly walked out of the room with all eyes on him.
Dog Poop Ordinance Changes
With no public comment, the council raised the maximum fine for dog waste violations to $2000 and included a “repeat offender” fine. When Councilwoman Terry LaBruno asked who would be enforcing the law, City Attorney Steven Kleinman said the public could bring a claim to the municipal court if they see someone break the law. When asked about deputizing Parking Utility employees to hand out dog doody tickets, Kleinman said there would be “personnel issues” with that, essentially confirming that the council has raised fines on a crime that nobody ever gets cited for.
More Budget Trouble
The city has overspent it’s budget by $1,275,000, and the council wanted to know why they were being asked to pass “emergency appropriations” to pay for it.
Business Administrator Richard England said back in February the city was told by its health insurance provider it would receive the benefit of $1.2 million in savings. England said he expected that money to come in by now, but it hasn’t, so he needs $900,000 for that. The good news there is the city still expects to get that money, just not before the fiscal year ends June 30.
He also noted the city didn’t budget for the $100,000 needed to pay for the runoff election. The last item was the most contentious: a $275,000 Special Counsel Expense item for “Unanticipated legal matters (resulting) in additional costs above our latest forecast”. When asked what this was for, Kleinman said primarily to pay for three sets of litigation.
Big Bucks for Parking Utility Suits
The bulk of the legal costs can be tied to issues related to the Parking Utility. When Dave Roberts took over the Parking Authority to take it’s millions in the bank to plug his budget gaps, he pushed aside a longtime employee in line to become director in favor of the political appointment of failed council candidate John Corea to the job. This employee, Joanne Serrano, sued and has won in court every step of the way.
Councilman Campos pointed out that the lawyers the city hired to fight Serrano’s lawsuit had advised from the beginning to “be aggressive” in fighting the suit, and that there was a “likelihood of success”. Turns out the only likelihood for success was for the city’s attorneys, who have racked up huge fees fighting a losing battle. Serrano has been awarded cash and attorneys fees for the city’s wrongdoing, like many other former and current employees who have sued the Roberts Administration.
Even the new City Attorney agreed it was a “bad decision” not to settle with Serrano, but the council was asked to approve another $100,000+ to pay the same politically connected attorneys hired by the Mayor to continue to fight the case on appeal.
City of Hoboken vs. Robotics
The other big bucks lawsuit involves Robotics, the company that designed and operated the 916 Garden Automated Garage. When robotics asked for an increase in monthly fees, the city kicked them out of the garage, leading to lawsuits and court orders against the city for the way it mishandled the situation. Robotics is suing for millions of dollars, and the attorneys are costing the city another $100,000 this month. Kleinman also said some of the money will go to fight open government public records requests from Beth Mason, who is now the 2nd ward councilwoman elect.
Politically Connected Attorneys
While the council approved the emergency expenditures, they refused to amend the contracts of law firms politically connected to the HCDO who were hired to take the cases. They are Scarinci and Hollenbeck, Florio and Kenny, and Schwartz Simon Edelstein. The council demanded to know who approved the over-expenditures so they could hold them “directly accountable”. Fingers were pointed at the mayor, as well as former corporation counsel Joe Sherman, who remains on the payroll despite his public “firing” by the mayor earlier this year. Many feel if Roberts had just handled these issues properly there would be no court battles and legal fees coming out of the taxpayers’ pockets.
Open Space Tax On The Ballot
The City Council reluctantly sent a proposal to create a new tax for “open space” to the voters in November. Speakers expressed concern about how the money from the tax would actually be spent. It is projected to raise $500,000 a year for the acquisition, development and maintenance of lands for recreation and conservation purposes. Resident Helen Hirsch said she would like to support it, but not as long as Dave Roberts is Mayor, because “the present keeper of the treasury cannot be trusted with public money.” The new tax was seen by some as a ruse to allow the Mayor to take a half million dollars in his budget for parks and spend it on something else instead.
Most of the council expressed concern about the tax, but Councilwoman Terry LaBruno was loudest, saying the “Born and Raised” and “Hoboken Seniors” are telling her they say “no more parks” in Hoboken, which is now “like heaven” compared to 50 years ago. She says they say we don’t need more parks, but should instead tax to pay for new senior and middle income housing.
Where Did This Stock Come From?
The council voted to authorize the sale of 3609 shares of Prudential Financial stock, raising several eyebrows. The city is not allowed to invest in private companies. Resident John Gordon pointed out that Prudential “de-mutualized” over 5 years ago, so the city has been holding stock illegally all that time. Prudential policyholders at that time received stock when the company went public. Nobody claimed to know anything about the shares until this year. It never showed up in a city audit. Gordon said the city would have been sent annual reports and proxy statements for years, so it should have known about this much sooner. The stock will be sold, and the city will put the $360,000 proceeds back into the insurance budget.
Next Stop: Inauguration Day
On Sunday, July 1st the new city council will meet to swear in the newly elected and re-elected members, and organize for the new year. The open question is still what will happen with the 4th ward seat. Dawn Zimmer is the certified winner of he election, and barring any word from a judge between now and then will take the oath of office. Still, Chris Campos remains defiant and vows to fight on, refusing to bid farewell at what likely could have been his last meeting as a Hoboken City Councilman.
See original preview below.
Budget blunders, dog poop, and a new tax are on the agenda for tonight’s Hoboken City Council meeting, which will be the last behind the big table for some of its members.
Dog Poop Ordinance Changes
A public hearing will be held on a proposed ordinance designed to put more teeth into the city’s dog waste law . The ordinance raises the maximum fine for dog waste violations to $2000 and includes a “repeat offender” fine. Names and pictures of the offenders could also be posted on the city’s website, if the city actually got around to ticketing anyone.
Petitions and Communications
There are two proclamations from Mayor David Roberts honoring the Hoboken High School girls’ softball and boys’ baseball teams on winning their division championships. With all that’s going on it should be interesting to see if Roberts shows up to the meeting to hand out the plaques, or if he leaves it to the council to figure out like he did with the Cheer Dynamics girls.
Making It Official
After that City Clerk Jimmy Farina will publicly announce that he has certified the runoff election victories of Dawn Zimmer, Peter Cunningham, and Nino Giacchi. This may be an odd moment for Chris Campos and Peter Cammarano, who have been working to overturn the certified 6 vote advantage Zimmer has over Campos.
More Budget Trouble
Apparently the Mayor’s budget is out of whack again. The first resolution on the agenda authorizes an emergency appropriation in the amount of $1,275,000. The biggest chunk of this is $900,000.00 needed for Group Health Insurance, because the Mayor’s “expected reduction in costs forecasted… will not be forthcoming within this budget year”.
Translation: somebody screwed up.
There is also a $275,000 Special Counsel Expense item for “Unanticipated legal matters (resulting) in additional costs above our latest forecast”. Several city employees, ex-employees and citizens have been suing the city for a variety of alleged bad practices over the course of the Roberts Administration, which has led to settlements and court awards that cost taxpayers money. Thanks Dave.
…and it gets worse.
If somebody asked you back when candidates filed to run for City Council whether or not there would a runoff election was likely, what would you have guessed? With four people running in the 4th ward, and 3 in the 5th and 6th, smart money said there could be a runoff somewhere, right? Well there was, but the city didn’t budget for it. They claim they needed another $100,000.00 to pay for the runoff, and it’s not in the adopted budget.
Since the Mayor is admitting he ran out of money with two weeks to go in the fiscal year he will need a 2/3rds vote of the council to pass an “emergency note” to roll the debt into the 2008 fiscal year, which begins July 1st. Combine that with the nearly $2,000,000 bill to fix the 916 Garden Automated Garage due in July and FY2008 is already getting off to a fine start.
9/11 Memorial Update
The council will consider a resolution to award a $210,000 contract for Borofloat panels made of floated borosilicate glass. The panels will be used for the 9/11 memorial to be placed off of Pier A park. More info on the memorial can be found at www.hoboken911.com
World War II Memorial Update
They will also consider a resolution to award Abbott Contracting a $427,950 bid to build the base of the World War II memorial. This bid is just for the base, not the bronze guns and helmets also planned for the memorial to be placed south of Sinatra Park.
Open Space Tax Proposed
A proposal to create a new tax for open space is on the agenda. The tax would take $.02 per $100.00 of assessed property value to be used exclusively for the acquisition/development of lands for recreation and conservation purposes. If the council passes the resolution, the proposal will appear on the November general election ballot for the voters to decide.
So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen…
Tributes are likely for 17-year Council veteran Richard DelBoccio and 12-year veteran Michael Cricco. Each decided not to seek another term in office. Whether there will be a tribute to 6-year Councilman Christopher Campos is an open question. Campos wants a recount, which is seen as a prelude to a legal challenge of his 6-vote loss in the 4th ward runoff. Campos could choose to stand defiant and reject a council sendoff, or take what he can tonight, and hope for a better tomorrow.
The Council caucus begins at 6pm at City Hall, followed by the regular meeting at 7pm. Bring popcorn.