The Hoboken City Council convened on Wednesday for a relatively tame final meeting before the upcoming May 10 City Council election, when all six ward seats will be up for grabs.
The council discussed the pending hospital sale, Councilman Michael Russo’s position on the Hoboken Housing Authority, pedestrian signs for Hoboken intersections, and park space uptown.
After Councilwoman Theresa Castellano introduced a resolution the city attorney said was “unenforceable,” the council unanimously adopted a revised resolution intended to keep them better informed about the details of the upcoming sale of Hoboken University Medical Center to a private company.
‘A child has a better chance of crossing the Turnpike on some days.’ – Haney Ahmed
Castellano’s original resolution called for significant involvement by the council in the proposed sale.
The 9-0 approval included the usual extensive political discussion. Some members of the council have asked for more information about the pending sale.
Some council members believe that since city bonds backed the hospital’s survival when it was on the verge of financial failure in 2007, the council should be privy to more information. However, when the deal was made to save HUMC four years ago, the council established the HMHA as an autonomous body, so as to not complicate a potential sale with politics. Mayor Dawn Zimmer sits on the authority, and sees the potential sale as a milestone for the city.
Councilman Russo is one of the members that asked for more information about the sale.
“We’ve asked for [the information] 20 different ways and we’ve been denied it every single time,” Russo said.
Councilwoman Carol Marsh said the council members are essentially “members of the public” in the process of the sale.
During the lengthy discussion, Corporation Counsel Mark Tabakin amended the resolution to make it a request for data from the authority.
In the midst of the discussion, Councilman David Mello said that he received a call from a potential bidder that he did not return, and wanted to take a straw poll to ask if any other council members received the call and how they responded. The council refused to allow the poll, and his council foes said his request was politically motivated.
Russo investigation discussed; voted down
A resolution was introduced by Councilman Ravinder Bhalla and Councilwoman Marsh to investigate Russo and remove him as a commissioner on the Hoboken Housing Authority. The HHA oversees the city’s public housing projects.
Bhalla and Marsh are allies of Mayor Dawn Zimmer, and Russo is not. Russo is running for re-election against a Zimmer ally.
The measure to remove him from the HHA board failed by a 4-4 vote. Russo recused himself from the vote because it would have been a conflict of interest.
In FBI surveillance tapes released online by the authors of “The Jersey Sting,” a book profiling the 2009 corruption sting in New Jersey, Russo is seen meeting with FBI informant Solomon Dwek and discussing issues pertaining to development and the HHA. Russo never met with Dwek a second time, and was never charged with any crime or wrongdoing. But he bragged about helping get a fellow HHA commissioner onto the board, and expecting political favors.
The resolution to remove him had been on the agenda at the previous council meeting in late April. Russo was absent from that April meeting because his family suffered two recent deaths.
At this past Wednesday’s meeting, Russo had an attorney present to represent him. He said the attorney was paid for by city funds.
Russo said he was advised to remove himself from the vote and discussion about himself.
Attorney David Corrigan, speaking on Russo’s behalf, said that if the council is to address the HHA issue, they should wait until after the election, adding that he believed the resolution to be “political grandstanding.”
Councilman Tim Occhipinti tried to table the proposed measure, which failed on a 4-4 vote. Then the original resolution failed by the same count.
Uptown park update
The council also voted 9-0 to call on the Zimmer administration to complete 1600 Park Ave. by the fall of this year. The park is located near the northern entrance to the city by the Park Avenue and Willow Avenue bridges, a high-traffic area.
One resident, Haney Ahmed, asked the council to look at further issues with the park.
“A child has a better chance of crossing the Turnpike on some days,” Ahmed said of the roads surrounding the park site. He urged the council to consider bringing Parking and Transportation Director Ian Sacs on board to improve signage and pedestrian safety in the area of the proposed park.
Occhipinti inquired about the possibility of opening the space to the public right now, even though the park is incomplete. Community Development Director Brandy Forbes said she expects construction to be “moving quickly” in the near future and was concerned about the safety of allowing people into an incomplete park.
Zimmer said Wednesday that her goal has been to open the park by the fall.
Forbes said at the meeting she doesn’t want to “set a date” because the city has to “get through the bid process.” But she added that if the construction of the park includes a “synthetic field” as planned, it won’t take long to complete construction.
No tow yard in downtown Hoboken
A few residents of downtown Hoboken came to the meeting to support a resolution from Castellano that passed unanimously, rejecting the municipal garage on Observer Highway as a proposed 24/7 yard to store towed vehicles.
Lane Bajardi, a resident who lives near the garage (and who is often critical of the mayor’s allies), said downtown residents of Hoboken do not want a tow yard in the area.
Zimmer has said she proposed the possible downtown tow yard as a “temporary plan.” A local towing company, Mile Square Towing, has received city contracts over the years without any competition, because bid specifications call for the company to be in Hoboken. No other towing companies are in Hoboken, so the bid specs create what Mello said could be considered a monopoly.
However, the city’s master plan, drawn at a time when the Roberts Administration had planned to sell the garage for a $20 million budget fix, calls for the garage location at Observer Highway and Willow Avenue to be zoned for residential development, not for a tow yard. The issue is expected to be revisited.
Also at the meeting:
– Sacs discussed retrofitting crosswalk signs to bring “countdown clocks” to intersections that already have hand signs for walkers. The signs show how much time a person has left to cross the street. The county is in the process of placing them on county roads in Hoboken, but Sacs said he is waiting for Hoboken’s budget to pass before signs can be installed on city streets.
¬– The council tabled changes to the rent control ordinance under the advice of the city attorney’s office, due to ongoing litigation associated with the changes.
– Zimmer withdrew legislation that would have approved a settlement agreement of $2 million for five Hispanic former police officers stemming from an infamous discrimination lawsuit in the Hoboken Police Department. A confidential memo about the settlement was leaked to a local news site. The memo only went to the council, so it is believed that the leak was from a council member.
Zimmer said she pulled the legislation and plans to present it at the next meeting, hoping that “cooler heads will prevail” as time passes after the May 10 council election.
The next meeting is on May 18 at 7 p.m.
Ray Smith may be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com