A former security director for the North Bergen Housing Authority is suing the agency, alleging wrongful termination.
The Authority fired Geoffrey Santini in March after an investigation into a February NBC report alleging he low-showed his job, and used an NBHA-funded vehicle partly for his private animal control business (Santini had animal control contracts with several New Jersey towns). The NBC report came after insiders contacted them with the allegations, according to the show.
However, Santini is alleging in his suit that the Authority had no issue with his use of the vehicle. He also alleges that he spoke out against violations and corruption inside the agency, and then, they took retaliatory measures.
"The position of director of security is an upper management salaried position, not an hourly position, that required Santini to be available at all times of the day and week to supervise and manage his staff," the lawsuit reads, responding to the low-show allegations.
NBC followed Santini around for several days to determine when he was showing up.
The suit also alleges that Authority Director Gerald Sanzari--another defendant--knew Santini was sometimes working at the animal control company.
Santini's lawsuit alleges that Sanzari hired a crony who wasn't eligible to work at the Authority, and other matters.
Santini said he repeatedly complained about a tenant living in an NBHA unit. This was because as a government employee, that tenant could not reside in public housing, because he reportedly owned a home on the Jersey Shore, Santini said. When Santini told Sanzari this, Sanzari allegedly "ignored him, or told him that 'This is the way it's always done,' " the suit claims.
He allegedly told Sanzari about another tenant who had various arrests. Under HUD rules, public housing tenants arrested on their property are subject to eviction.
The suit names attorney Mark Tabakin, whom the Authority hired to investigate the NBC report, as another defendant. It alleges Tabakin led a "sham investigation." Tabakin also never bothered interviewing Santini regarding his NBHA employment, the litigation alleges.
Phil Swibinski, a spokesman for the NBHA, fired back in a statement.
"Mr. Santini was terminated after a thorough and wide ranging investigation into his conduct, and we believe firmly that the decision to terminate his employment was justified based on the information discovered," Swibinski said. "The North Bergen Housing Authority denies the allegations being made by Santini in this retaliatory lawsuit and we will vigorously defend against it in court."
Earlier this summer, the housing authority's former director also filed suit.
Housing authorities are publicly-funded authorizes that are technically overseen by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, but are often managed day to day by a paid staff and an unpaid Board of Commissioners, some of whom are political appointees. HUD has, over the years, tried to get out of the business of managing this low-income, affordable, and senior citizen housing, leaving more oversight to local officials.
For a full story on the lawsuit, check upcoming editions of the North Bergen Reporter. If you have more information or comments, post them here or email email@example.com.
Free Summer Concert on the Hudson Rescheduled to Aug. 22
Don’t miss the free summer concert in Waterfront Park at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 22.
Performing live will be Freddy Larrosa, Ari & Oli, with music by DJ Randy. Modern Spin Restaurant will serve crepes, and there will be a BBQ vegan booth.
Waterfront Park, located at 7200 River Road facing Manhattan on the Hudson River, is jointly owned and maintained by North Bergen and Guttenberg. The park features classic amphitheater seating, as well as folding chairs for your comfort and convenience – or bring a blanket and picnic on the grass alongside the river.
The event is hosted by Mayor Nicholas Sacco and Guttenberg Mayor Wayne Zitt, and sponsored by Hackensack Palisades Medical Center in recognition of breast cancer awareness. Admission is free and so is the parking.
Originally scheduled for July, the concert was postponed due to inclement weather.
Two NBPD Officers Promoted to Sergeant
The North Bergen Police Department started its annual Night Out Against Crime observance by promoting two of its own on Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018.
Det. David Botwin and P.O. Gleny Henry were both promoted to the rank of Sergeant at a ceremony in town hall in front of a room crowded with friends, family, residents, and fellow officers.
Mayor Nicholas Sacco presided over the promotions, joined by Public Safety Commissioner Allen Pascual. Police Chief Robert Dowd offering high praise for the new sergeants, calling them “two of our finest police officers.” Also on hand to offer his congratulations was Commissioner Julio Marenco.
Kids Too Busy to Sleep During ‘Night at the Library’
Twenty students from North Bergen and Guttenberg held a sleepover at the North Bergen Free Public Library on Bergenline Avenue – but there was little sleep that night. Instead the kids, ages 12 to 14, engaged in all kinds of games and activities that kept them busy from 8 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 3 straight through to 9 a.m. Saturday morning.
Head Librarian Sai Rao and about half a dozen library staff members concocted a wide variety of pastimes and challenges to keep the kids engaged, beginning with a pair of icebreakers that saw the kids twisted into human puzzles and strategizing as a team to disentangle themselves. From there the night included everything from word games to musical chairs to hide-and-seek in the darkened library stacks.
Activities wound up with a movie at 4:30 a.m., during which many of the kids finally drifted into dreamland.
Divided into three teams – Sir Taco, Supreme Tr3yway, and #Harambe, with the librarians themselves joining the fun as “The Bookworms” – the kids vied for points. The winners, Team Supreme, received eight days of free printing (up to $10) and up to $5 off of fines on their library cards.
Of course there was plenty of food to keep them content, including tacos in the early evening, s’mores cooked over an open flame in the parking lot at night, and pizzas at 2 a.m. – 24 personal pies in total, donated by Dominos of North Bergen. For a final meal the kids cooked their own breakfast pancakes.
As the sun rose and the event drew to a close, one of the kids was heard to say, “The library doesn't feel like a library anymore. It feels like home.”
Meet your local police and share your concerns at three sessions in August The North Bergen Police Department regularly hosts community meetings to get to know local residents. This August they will host three meetings at different locations throughout the township, where residents can meet the officers who patrol their neighborhoods, and share any local concerns.
The meetings are part of a program known as N.B. TAPS (North Bergen Township Alternative Policing Strategy), designed to enhance police-community relations in the township. Residents get to meet and discuss issues face-to-face with the officers who serve their immediate community, and the officers get to learn about any matters of concern directly from the residents.
All meetings will take place from 7 to 8 p.m. The dates and locations are as follows: Tuesday, August 14: Our Lady of Fatima Church, Lower Level, 8011 Kennedy Blvd.; Thursday, August 16: Uptown Public Library, 8411 Bergenline Ave.; Tuesday, August 21: North Bergen Town Hall Chambers, Lower Level, 4233 Kennedy Blvd.
Want to become a NHRFR firefighter?
The state Civil Service Commission is accepting applications for eligibility tests to join the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue, a press release said.
Those interested must register at https://info.csc.state.nj.us/oas/Applicant_Login.aspx?Symbol=M9999W&Form_ID=FF by Aug.31. The testing fee is $35. Testing dates will be announced after the application process closes.
The NHRFR is a regional fire squad that handles North Bergen, Union City, West New York, Guttenberg, and Weehawken. It was formed by combining those town's individual fire departments in 1999. The squad has firehouses throughout those towns.
County holds off on federal grant for immigration enforcement
Honoring a request made by state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, Hudson County has put a hold on spending of a $237,449 federal grant that would have forced the county to assist in immigration enforcement. This comes in conjunction with a lawsuit New Jersey and five other states has filed against U.S. Justice Department tying federal aid to help with immigration enforcement.
The funds were scheduled to be distributed to Bayonne, North Bergen, and West New York for various enforcement activities.
Freeholder Bill O’Dea said the Board of Freeholders will review the situation “but it is my understanding everything is on hold,” he said.
Also, along with Freeholder Joel Torres, last month, O’Dea voted against renewing the county’s contract for housing immigration detainees at the Hudson County Correctional Facility in Kearny, a 10-year, $10 million contract renewal. It has drawn fire from activists throughout the county and the state.
For instance, the Hoboken City Council unanimously approved a last-minute resolution on Aug 1 urging the county Board of Freeholders to terminate that $10 million contract.
Many of the 800 detainees held at the jail are not there because of crimes or immigration violations, but because they’re being detained by ICE for confirmation or legal status or other matters. The jail also has approximately 400 traditional prisoners held on criminal charges.
Under the new contract, the county will receive $120 per day per detainee held at the Hudson County Correctional Facility in Kearny. This is a $10 increase from the previous contract.
The Hoboken resolution also cited six deaths that had occurred at the Hudson County Correction facility in the past two years, including four suicides. It also mentions visits and detainee interviews conducted by nonprofit Human Rights First, who labeled the facility as “inhumane.”