City Council – 10/3/2007 Recap
Here’s another video that pieces together the context of Beth Mason’s exchange with the Council:
I recommend anyone that is interested in how Hoboken operates please look at the five video clips below. Watch them again if you have to. The whole topic and verbal exchange defies logic. The more I think about this, the worse I feel about it.
Beth Mason should be applauded for her efforts, and I feel it’s pathetic that she’s receiving flack from her “peers” and individuals that are supposed to be responsible for YOUR tax dollars to begin with.
To skirt the main topic at hand, and point the finger at Mason for “attorney fees” is the weakest rebuttal ever. To drop “fiduciary responsibility” in every sentence is extremely contradicting, and the council members against these lawsuits should be ashamed of themselves.
- Why won’t the city FORK OVER the data she’s requesting and ENTITLED to have? If they gave her the information she originally asked for, NONE of this would have ever happened.
- What is the problem? Have any of the “other” council members explained clearly and exactly WHY the data wasn’t provided? Dropping the lawsuit and having secret back room meetings isn’t going to accomplish jack squat. Beth obviously needs the hand of the law to get real data without being filtered.
- Who is ultimately responsible for this holdup?
- Where is the data? Who has access to it? What data was destroyed? Can it be gained via alternate methods (such as cell phone companies, etc)? There is obviously more than one copy of these reports/spreadsheets/expenditures/bills. Are we in a spy movie here? “This message will self-destruct in 15 seconds”
At this point I don’t feel like speculating on what the reasons are (friends, shady deals, mismanagement, etc). But it would be refreshing (albeit unlikely) for someone to step up and take responsibility for whatever it is. If it takes a small amount of taxpayer money to unearth a potential boat load of unnecessary expenditures, it’s a job well done, and will benefit Hoboken for years to come.
What has our Mayor said about this recently?
Here are some notable video clips from last weeks meeting.
We’ll start with Part I of Beth Mason’s starring role, and you can see the rest of the videos via the nifty embedded links afterward.
Read the whole recap after the jump.
The Hoboken City Council put on quite a show this week. There was an all-out throwdown between Beth Mason and Peter Cammarano over the citizen’s right to public documents, plus it looks like there is another budget deficit disaster brewing. There were some surprises in the discussion of the Western Edge Redevelopment area, an update on the Automated Parking Garage, and more talk about the Mercury Site, plus the Request for Proposals for the sale of the Municipal Garage site is finally available to developers.
Read your exclusive Hoboken411 recap of the action after the jump:
Another Budget Disaster Looming?
Mayor David Roberts still hasn’t proposed his budget for the fiscal year that began July 1st. It sounds like the numbers are not adding up. 3rd ward councilman Mike Russo is the chairman of the council’s budget and finance committee. He said the committee “found slight discrepancies” in the budget numbers they have been working with the administration. Because of these “discrepancies” Russo asked the council table the two bonding ordinances on the agenda for a “Second Reading, Public Hearing, and Final Vote”.
The council was asked to borrow $2 million for road improvements and $2.2 million to fix up parking utility facilities. Critics say this is a form of unnecessary “back door borrowing” because the Parking Utility consistently runs at an annual surplus of $3 to 4 million, which Mayor David Roberts raids to fill his annual structural budget deficit. Instead of using the Parking Utility’s surplus to pay for Parking Utility repairs, the surplus will continue to go into the general fund while the city puts itself deeper in debt.
Russo also asked to table Resolution 16, which set the “preliminary municipal tax levy” at $32 million for the third and fourth quarters. He did not suggest tabling the resolution authorizing “additional temporary emergency appropriations” until such time a formal budget is adopted.
That passed 7-0-1 with 2nd ward councilwoman Beth Mason as the lone abstention. You get the very real sense that there are some serious budget problems being dealt with behind the scenes.
Mayor Wants to Spend More Than Allowed
The “First Reading” on an ordinance to authorize the city to “exceed the municipal budget cost of living allowance” beyond the state mandated 2.5% increase was approved with conditions. The Mayor wants to spend 3.5%. That would mean spending $2,156,308.00 more than the state would normally allow. Mason was the only councilmember to vote no. 5th ward Councilman Peter Cunningham abstained, as did 1st ward Councilwoman Terry Castellano who said she couldn’t vote yes without a budget proposal from the Mayor. Councilmen-at-large Peter Cammarano and Ruben Ramos each said they were only voting yes “on introduction” meaning they might change their vote after the “second reading and public hearing.” Russo, councilwoman-at-large Terry LaBruno, and 6th ward councilman Nino Giacchi voted yes, and the vote carried 5-1-2.
Western Edge Redevelopment Debate Rages On
There was a lively debate on the proposed $45,000.00 contract for the planners at Phillips, Preiss, Shapiro to prepare a redevelopment plan for the Western Edge Redevelopment area. Council watchdog Helen Hirsch kicked it off by asking why the city is under such pressure to “Develop, develop, develop,” and said it was time to curtail development. Ms. Hirsch says there are half-finished condos under construction all over town, and it is affecting the quality of life.
Beth Mason noted the Roberts administration and developer Tarragon/Ursa had already been clear they had specific plans for construction on the sites, so what is it exactly that PPSA will do differently for $45k that developer has already put forward. Community Development Director Fred Bado admitted concepts had been discussed between the Mayor and developer, but the redevelopment law says they need a planner, ostensibly to put together a rubber-stamp plan for the Mayor’s favorite developer for the Western Edge.
Russo asked why the city planner couldn’t handle this. It was noted the city has so many projects/developments underway and nothing ever seems to come to fruition. Sometimes the cream rises to the top, but it’s time to get projects done before starting another one. Russo said the city needs to dictate projects one at a time because it doesn’t complete them in a timely manner. He pointed to Pier C as an example. Russo said he wants to slow down development. Cunningham followed up, saying it’s time to follow the recommendations of the Master Plan. The 5th ward councilman noted the city is in a rush to award developer new redevelopment zones, but is in now hurry to adopt the ordinances that would turn the zoning recommendations of the Master Plan into law. Cunningham said things are “out of whack.”
But Its for the children, again
LaBruno then played the “Swimming Pool” card, saying if they don’t vote on this contract the children won’t get their new recreation center, a line right out of Tarragon/Ursa’s script. Mason then pointed out the city was supposed to get a community center as part of the Northwest Redevelopment plan, and where is it? Mason said the city needs to be diligent, and it hasn’t been holding developers to their promises. Mason also noted with sewer lines that don’t line up the city needs to take a step back before approving plans for several hundred new condos on the Western Edge.
Cammarano urged the council note to table the resolution or delay the redevelopment plan further. Giacchi disagreed, saying it could wait, and without a budget in place the council should not be approving non-emergency expenditures like this planner contract. Giacchi joined with Mason and Cunningham voting against the $45k contract, while Cammarano, LaBruno, Ramos, Russo and Castellano voted yes, approving it 5-3.
Meeting In Violation of OPMA?
Mason announced that she wanted to go on the record noting she believed the meeting to be in violation of the Open Public Meetings Act. LaBruno asked why Mason thought they were in violation of OPMA. Mason said she was working with Council President Castellano, Corporation Counsel Steve Kleinman, and City Clerk Jim Farina to fix the problems, but as long as there are issues she feels the need to go on the record about it. Mason noted the council had yet to receive and approve minutes from meetings going back to July (something they have never done before) and this was an OPMA violation. Mason also asked that the resolution approving the minutes from the 9/17/07 meeting be removed because of errors she found in the minutes, the first set ever provided by the clerk’s office.
Mason Defends Herself on OPRA Lawsuits
At the last meeting when discussion of the many lawsuits the city is facing came up, Mason recused herself from the discussion and left her seat at the council table. This is because she has a number of lawsuits against the city pending regarding the city’s refusal to comply with the Open Public Records Act. With Mason absent, Cammarano and City Attorney Steve Kleinman opened fire on her in absentia. The cases were called “frivolous” and “without merit”. Kleinman also erroneously stated Mason “never won a case.”
During the Public Portion of this week’s meeting, Mason left her council seat and stood at the public microphone to respond to the charges and misinformation being spread about her suits. Mason said all of her cases involve requests for records about expenditure and use of public funds. Out of 6 cases, the city’s attorneys have lost two, not “none” as Kleinman said. Mason said the city never attempted to resolve the lawsuits by presenting the documents in question before they came to trial. Mason pointed out the Jersey Journal reported in June 2005 that Hoboken spent $230,000 on 150 city-issued cell phones.
Who spent all this Taxpayer Money?
Mason requested the detailed bills for cell phones provided to City employees. The legal basis for my request is the Open Public Records Act – known as OPRA – which provides access to records such as phone bills. OPRA says those records should be produced within 7 days. She was told it would take 21 days, but now it’s October 2007, and Mason still hasn’t been given the public records. What little she was given was all blacked out with the key information redacted. Other public records Mason requested were destroyed before the city could hand them over. This caught the attention of councilman Russo, who said expressed concern about that.
Cammarano can’t help himself
Meanwhile, Cammarano kept interrupting Mason and criticizing her for not dropping the suits. Cammarano rudely harangued Mason, who went toe-to-toe with him. Cammarano falsely charged Mason was only trying to gain money from the suits, and tried to downplay the importance of public access to public records. LaBruno said once Mason was elected she had a fiduciary responsibility to drop the suits without further action. Mason said she had every right as a citizen to see the cases through the courts. It was later pointed out that LaBruno has a fiduciary responsibility to make sure her mentor – David Roberts – complies with OPRA so members of the public don’t sue the city and get awarded attorneys fees. It was also noted that Mason’s attorney’s fees are far less that the hundreds of thousands the city pays the politically-connected Scarinici and Hollenbeck law firm.
Public express disgust at Peter
Many people in the audience were disgusted by the display Cammarano put on. Some were so upset they yelled at him from the seats. Citizen and Taxpayer Bob DuVal rose to express how appalled he was with Cammarano’s display, saying totalitarian regimes hide public records, and they shouldn’t be hidden by democracies like the city of Hoboken. When Cammarano tried to interrupt, DuVal stood his ground saying it was his time to address the council, and that the councilman should keep quiet while he speaks. He proceeded to take the councilman to task for criticizing the citizen’s right to sue the city for access to public records.
916 Garden Update: Flying to Israel
The head of the Parking Utility gave an update on the 916 Garden automated parking garage debacle. Remember when it was supposed to be done by March, with an April ribbon cutting in time for the May election? Well, the ever changing deadline for getting this fiasco back up to 100% occupancy has been pushed ahead to “early November”. Before that can happen John Corea says he and members of his crew need to be flown to Israel for training on the system. This is the same John Corea who submitted a city reimbursement voucher for a $1700 steak dinner at an Atlantic City Hotel. I wonder if they have a steakhouse near where Unitronics is located.
Russo and Cammarano want Raia’s Mercury Site
There was talk of taking the Mercury Site from Frank Raia and giving it to another developer for affordable housing. Raia said he would develop affordable housing there when he was running against Mike Russo for 3rd ward council, but Russo and Cammarano claim Raia now wants luxury condos on the site. Raia made a 5 million dollar winning bid for the federal superfund site after Campos announced to the world that the city was prepared to bid 4 million dollars for it, even though the council authorized a 10 million dollar bond. Cammarano agreed that in poker terms what Campos did was “a tell”, but refused to blame the former councilman for losing the property.
Other notes from the meeting…
Dawn Zimmer was there, Chris Campos was not, but a letter from him was read into the record asking the council to move ahead with the concepts of the SW6 action plan and set aside the previous plan for the Southwest Redevelopment Area. Zimmer recounted her attack of the 4th ward tomatoes story, and announced she would be holding a meeting to discuss proposals to stop the flooding.
Pedicabs are back! The Hoboken City Council’s favorite non-issue is back on the agenda for tonight’s meeting, along with millions of dollars in bonding, contracts for birth control and day care services, another look at the tax levy, and the Western Edge Redevelopment Plan. Here’s a preview:
Public Hearings: $2.4 Million in Bonding
The council will hold their “Second Reading, Public Hearing, and Final Vote” on $2 million in borrowing for road improvements and $2.2 million to fix up parking utility facilities. Critics say this is a form of unnecessary “back door borrowing” because the Parking Utility consistently runs at an annual surplus of $3 to 4 million, which Mayor David Roberts raids to fill his annual structural budget deficit. Instead of using the Parking Utility’s surplus to pay for Parking Utility repairs, the surplus will continue to go into the general fund while the city puts itself deeper in debt if the council agrees to this tonight.
City pays for Birth Control and Day Care
The council will consider resolutions approving several contracts to pay for child care, recreation, and family planning services totaling $235,000.00. This largest contract is for $82,818.00 to Mile Square Day Care. Another for $50,531.00 goes to HOPES Head Start, and $23,000.00 to Hoboken Family Planning.
The Taxman Cometh, again
There are lots of rumors flying around about the true health of Hoboken’s budget. Since the Mayor still hasn’t presented a budget document, it’s hard to separate truth from fiction. Tonight the city council will consider a resolution to set the “Preliminary municipal tax levy” at $32 million for the third and fourth quarters. This goes with yet another resolution authorizing “additional temporary emergency appropriations” until such time a formal budget is adopted. Don’t hold your breath waiting.
There is also an ordinance on the agenda that would authorize the city to “Exceed the municipal budget cost of living allowance” beyond the state mandated 2.5% increase. The Mayor wants to spend 3.5%. That would mean spending $2,156,308.00 more than the state would normally allow.
Western Edge Redevelopment Update
A $45,000.00 contract for the planners at Phillips, Preiss, Shapiro Associates is back on the agenda after it was tabled at the last meeting for lack of information. If it is approved, PPSA will prepare a redevelopment plan for the Western Edge Redevelopment area, consisting of parcels to the north and west of ShopRite owned (or under contract) by the Tarragon/Ursa partnership.
What the heck is this Applied thing?
Resolution 17 is a mystery, because it is just a title with no resolution to back it up. It says it “Authorizes the City of Hoboken to execute a release on a mortgage for property owned by Applied Companies” and that it “will be available at the meeting.” Since the council members have been annoyed lately by this kind of last minute stuff, it might be pulled from the agenda.
New Ordinances: Pedicabs!
The pedicabs are back… or actually they are not here and the council still doesn’t want them here. The moratorium against pedicabs expires on November 2nd, and some on the council want to continue it for another six months. This will be the first reading on that continuation ordinance, which will move to a public hearing at the next meeting.