At a summer meeting with only six City Council members present and a sparse crowd in attendance, the council reinstated the original terms of the city attorney’s contract, discussed a Zoning Board member’s use of her personal blog, and approved a settlement that ended the controversy over the municipal garage.
Council members Beth Mason, Theresa Castellano, and Carol Marsh were absent from the meeting, giving Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s council allies a 4-2 majority on Wednesday night.
‘It’s very important to honor our deal.’ – Scott Siegel
Paying a settlement
The saga surrounding the city’s municipal garage came to an end after the council voted unanimously on Wednesday to approve a settlement agreement to end the litigation.
The city had planned to sell the municipal garage, on Observer Highway and Willow Avenue, to S. Hekemian Group (SHG) of Paramus beginning in 2007, so the company could develop on the site. Both sides claimed the other breached the contract, and the sale fell through, leading to extensive litigation.
As part of the settlement, which was announced on Thursday, SHG will keep their $2.5 million deposit, which is 10 percent of the original $25 million deal.
Political contributions discussed
After a 20-minute discussion, the council voted by a 4-2 margin to limit campaign contributions from political action committees in municipal campaigns to $500. The new law would be stricter than the state’s $8,200 limit on PAC donations. However, after the council voted 4-2, City Clerk James Farina pointed out that the ordinance failed because it needed five out of the nine council members to vote yes.
Tabakin read a statute that confirmed Farina’s statement. The issue is likely to be addressed at the next meeting.
The issue of PAC donations has been on the council agenda intermittently since February, and there is an open debate about whether or not the proposed ordinance is preempted by state law.
Council President Ravinder Bhalla and Councilman David Mello, supporters of the legislation, have said that since the local law is more stringent than the state law, it would not be preempted, because it does not undermine the state legislation.
Patricia Waiters, a former mayoral, council, and Board of Education candidate, supported the legislation, saying the residents need to “hold our heads up again with pride” and “run some clean elections.”
Supporters of the legislation have cited other municipalities that have similar laws, but Councilman Tim Occhipinti said that because none of the other municipalities have been challenged in court, the legislation still could be preempted. Occhipinti voted against the measure.
Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s allies have said they support the measure to avoid cases like last November’s situation in which Councilwoman Beth Mason donated a large sum of money to Occhipinti’s campaign through her largely self-funded political committee. Occhipinti beat a Zimmer ally in the race.
Attorney’s salary restored
Tabakin’s salary was also increased back to $103,500 to reflect the terms of his original contract. Before July 1, when the council was aligned against Zimmer, the former council majority cut his salary to approximately $70,000.
Now that Zimmer’s allies hold the majority, they restored the original amount.
“It’s very important to honor our deal,” said resident Scott Siegel at the meeting.
Occhipinti voted against re-instating the terms of the deal.
“We have a corporation counsel that works three days a week,” Occhipinti said. “A lot of citizens have a problem with that.”
Councilman Michael Russo also voted against the legislation to re-instate the salary.
“I think you do an excellent job,” Russo said to Tabakin. “But he does that three days a week…I think we should pay someone less than $103,000.”
Bhalla, who supported the legislation, said that even though Russo and Occhipinti do not believe Tabakin should have the salary he receives, the city already has a contract with him that should be honored.
The council also voted to re-instate the original terms of Tabakin’s firm’s contract with the city, Weiner Lesniak, to $200,000, which also had been reduced earlier this year.
– Councilman Tim Occhipinti called for the removal of a Zoning Board member after she posted an apparently satirical letter to the FBI on her blog. In it she said she wants to work for the federal agency and to arrest council members. “I’ve always wanted to shoot a gun,” she wrote on her blog. But a supporter of the Zoning Board member called Occhipinti’s call for removal “an attack on free speech.” Tabakin said he would inform the council of the proper protocol for potential removal at the next meeting.
– The council awarded a contract to Tilcon New York, Inc., for improvements to various streets in the city for an amount of $394,150.
– The council voted to allow the mayor to execute funding agreements with different organizations in the city, including the Jubilee Center, United Cerebral Palsy, HOPES, Nuestros Ninos, Miles Square Funding, Day Care 100, Hoboken Family Planning, and the Boys and Girls Club of Hudson County.
– The uptown YMCA will be the recipient of approximately $48,000 from the city’s affordable housing fund. The YMCA plans to fund the construction of 96 additional single-room occupancy units of low and moderate housing.
–Legislation proposed by Councilwoman Mason to remove health care benefits from council members’ salaries was removed from the agenda because she was absent. The resolution is likely to be addressed at the next meeting.
–The council also moved legislation to codify the city’s charter to the next meeting. City officials said last week that they couldn’t find a codified charter that would establish how the city operates, so they need to pass one as a “housekeeping” measure, according to the sponsor of the legislation, Councilman Bhalla.
Ray Smith may be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com