Opponents to the recently-passed rent control ordinance were not the target of retribution by city officials when the city denied them use of space at the Bayonne Public Library to hold their meeting, said city officials last week.
The group – which was using the library for meetings – apparently failed to meet the requirements of a newly-passed city ordinance that regulated the use of city-owned property.
Municipal Services Director Joseph Waks, along with several police officers, said the group would not be allowed to meet at the library unless it produced proof of insurance as dictated by the new ordinance.
The Bayonne Tenant Organization originally scheduled its meeting for Wednesday, April 25, but had to reschedule. But apparently not all the members received the notice and showed up at the library anyway, only to be told by Waks that the meeting could not take place.
Officials said the tenants’ organization that has used the library in the past for its meetings was not singled out, but fell under the new regulation that required groups meeting in any city-owned building to provide liability insurance.
“Earlier this year, the City of Bayonne passed an ordinance that requires that any private organization wishing to use any public facility provide insurance to protect the city against any claims arising out of their use,” said Business Administrator Steve Gallo in a statement issued a day after pro-rent control activities were asked to leave the library. “The city does not charge non-profit, youth and civic groups for the use of city facilities, but we must protect the interests of the citizens by requesting reasonable insurance coverage.”
City officials said they notified organizations throughout the city of the change.
“This was not about one organization. A notice went to all organizations in the city that the ordinance was in effect,” said Dr. Joseph Ryan, spokesperson for the city. “All groups have to follow the new guidelines.”
“This was not about one organization. A notice went to all organizations in the city that the ordinance was in effect.” – Dr. Joseph Ryan
Originally city officials had been concerned about use of the stadium and other sporting facilities in the city by groups and the risk of liability if someone got hurt. Officials realized that there was no centralized standard for use of city facilities.
City officials said many groups wanted to use city-owned facilities, particularly areas like the stadium, and that there was a significant risk of a lawsuit if someone got hurt and the city had not required the group to provide its own insurance. But these discussions, officials said, led to questioning of policies for all of the other city facilities that are used by groups.
Rules tended to vary with the facility and the city council approved a recommendation that all approvals for use be made through the mayor’s office and that certain standards, such as providing insurance coverage, be required.
Although some critics of the administration claimed this move would have a chilling effect on people gathering if the groups disagreed with administration policy, city officials said the change had more to do with the risk of lawsuit against the city and a more consistent policy for all city-owned facilities.
Groups do not have to use city-owned property to meet. Many of the local veterans’ posts offer space for meetings, as do churches and local taverns.
This is not the first change of use of city-owned facilities made by the administration. Earlier this year, the city did away with groups using the City Council chambers on weekends.
“The administration decided that it would not be cost effective to allow the use of council chambers on weekends,” Ryan said.