I wish to set the record straight on the lack of transparency regarding the “Vision 20/20” redevelopment/expansion of the Hoboken Housing Authority.
Despite HHA Executive Director Carmelo Garcia’s belated and wholly unspecific overture to have a public forum on the controversial project, the reality is that when I was board chairman, I repeatedly urged Mr. Garcia to organize multiple forums involving all community stakeholders to fully inform the public about the plans and solicit feedback and ideas.
As recently as Feb. 18, I emailed Mr. Garcia the following:
“Director, let’s plan on scheduling a public-input forum of all community stakeholders, map out the feasibility of the municipal permitting process and gauge feedback and approval prospects from the city levels before committing to any next steps. We don’t want to put the cart before the horse. In light of recent miscommunication resulting in the need for retroactive permits, it is incumbent upon us to be thorough and meticulous and professionalize our interface with the city and greater community.
Any public statements to the contrary would be presumptuous and premature. Please feel free to contact me if anyone has any questions or concerns.”
Not only did Mr. Garcia defy my instruction, he thoroughly ignored it and plowed ahead with his own game plan, never responding to me in any way.
While such insubordination was quite typical throughout my chairmanship, the fact that now, after receiving blowback from the City of Hoboken and many city residents, Mr. Garcia is spewing vagaries about public meetings and releasing partial data about the plan, is really rather laughable. It seems our executive director really does take the Hoboken citizenry for fools, trying to sell people on the same platitudes and double-talk he used to try to ram this through the board. As I have said from the very beginning, a project of this magnitude cannot be initiated in a vacuum – it has an impact on the entire Hoboken community and should be handled accordingly.
Amid Mr. Garcia’s desperate flailing to get the stakeholder buy-in he failed to seek when it might have made a difference, I think it is important that we take stock of the people who have been most vocal in their advocacy for his fast-track approach. The loudest, most recurring champions of building first and answering questions later include Perry Belfiore, Beth Mason, Michael and Michele Russo, Timothy Occhipinti, Theresa Castellano, Ruben Ramos and Eduardo Gonzalez. By my count, these have been the most public faces of advancing this plan as quickly, and with as little information, as possible, through their statements at City Council meetings, HHA meetings, letters to the press, and other forums. This cast of characters is, in my opinion, a rogues gallery of people we can always count on to aggressively push whatever is against the public interest, instead serving private, special interests. The presence of this group on the front lines of any massive disbursement of public funds is, in my opinion, reason alone for people to be wary and demand more information before allowing anything to move forward.
Board of Commissioners
Hoboken Housing Authority