Wednesday night's City Council meeting was eventful in that important appointments were made to the Hoboken Parking Authority, Hoboken Housing Authority and Hoboken Planning Board.
As expected, Mayor David Roberts appointed Alan Cohen and Daniel DeCavaignac to the Hoboken Parking Authority. The appointments come after a fierce legal battle between former Mayor Anthony Russo and current Mayor David Roberts.
Both mayors appointed two commissioners to the HPA board and it was up to Superior Court Judge Arthur D'Italia to decide which was valid. The judge ruled that neither set of appointees were legal and instructed the City Council to redraft an ordinance to expand the HPA board from five members to seven, if they choose to do so.
At Wednesday night's City Council meeting, the city adopted an ordinance to expand the board. Then, it passed a resolution to waive the 20-day period it normally takes for a new ordinance to be adopted.
That means that as of this past Wednesday, Cohen and DeCavaignac are acting members on the volunteer board and are able to sit at its next meeting at 7 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 10.
Andreula appointed to Housing Authority
In a last minute addition to Wednesday night's City Council meeting agenda, local teacher Jessica Andreula, the daughter of 3rd Ward Councilwoman Roseanne Andreula, was appointed to the Hoboken Housing Authority's Board of Commissioners. Andreula's qualifications include a two-year internship at the Connors Primary School, the school in the area of town that holds the Housing Authority. She will be able to join the board of commissioners at its next scheduled meeting this Wednesday at 6:15 p.m.
The council voted by a 8-1 margin to appoint Andreula to fill the unexpired term of Frank Raia, with 1st Ward Councilwoman Theresa Castellano voting no.
At the end of last year, real estate developer Frank Raia had been asked to step down from the board because the HHA administers Section 8 housing contracts for the 14 tenants that live on property Raia owns in town, and state regulators were concerned that his participation on the board could be a conflict of interest.
To get around this conflict, the state agreed to administer Raia's Section 8 contract instead. In March, Raia was reinstated. But according to Raia, he is still not able to participate because he is still in possession of some of his Section 8 vouchers, so he has not showed up for meeting since March.
But now that it appears that Raia's conflict is not easily resolvable. The City Council has decided to appoint Andreula to that position.
The HHA's board of commissioners has come under a great deal of fire because of its inability to lure enough members to meetings for a quorum.
The board, which sets policy for 1,353 federally subsidized low-income housing units in the southwest corner of town, has not met since March because for the last five scheduled meetings, not enough commissioners have showed up to vote. The board is made up of seven volunteer members. Five are chosen by a vote of the City Council, one is the mayor's selection, and one is the governor's appointment.
With the addition of Andreula there are six active members, with the governor's selection still unfilled. To have a legal meeting there must be at least four members must show.
The appointment of Andreula is not without controversy. A former City Council president and ally of former Mayor Anthony Russo, James Fitzsimmons, questioned the appointment during Wednesday's meeting. He hinted that it was political patronage. "Prior to being elected by an overwhelming majority, your administration pledged to make appointments based on qualification and not political affiliations," said Fitzsimmons to council president Anthony Soares.
A visibly irritated Soares replied that Andreula was qualified of the position and the appointed was based only on qualifications.
"It's true that she is the daughter of a councilwoman," said Soares. "I have known her for several years she is more than qualified. On her own volition she chose to teach at a school with many challenges [Connors]. That tells me that here is someone who cares and wants to help and will be a great benefit down at the HHA."
Fitzsimmons asked if they had reviewed resumes. Soares pointed out that this is a volunteer position and not a paid position. However, that distinction did not matter a few years ago when Russo critics blasted Russo for his own volunteer appointments.
Soares said that the federal department of Housing and Urban Development had ordered the council to appoint someone to that position quickly.
Soares said, tongue in cheek, "She was in no way chosen because she hung a sign in her window supporting me," a jab at the way things are sometimes said to work in local politics.
Activist appointed to Planning Board
Also appointed at Wednesday's City Council meeting was community activist Beth Mason to the Hoboken Planning Board. Mason is one of the founders and the most active members of the Historic Hudson Street Coalition (HHSC). The group is against over development.
Earlier this year, the HHSC paid for and drafted and ordinance that put several building restrictions on the Steven Institute of Technology. The passing of that group's ordinance caused Stevens to pull a 376-car parking garage and athletic field upgrade from Planning Board consideration.
Since its formation about a year ago, the HHSC has become a powerful citywide lobbying group when it come to new developments that come before the Planning Board.
In the past, Mason has said she is not anti-development but is for a citywide slowdown. She said she is very concerned with maintaining a neighborhood community and with historical preservation.
Mason was not available for additional comment last week.
Longevity battle gets even uglier
At the August 15 City Council meeting, the council had voted 9-0 to adopt a plan to recoup $116,812.38 in longevity pay that was illegally doled out to city employees.
But what has some city workers upset is that some have to pay their money back and some don't.
Originally there were 45 employees that would have to pay back $355,228, but since then, as per request of a judge, the city has recalculated. And now 19 of those original 45 can keep their money.
"I've worked my whole life in Hoboken and I have go give back this money. It's just not fair," said city worker Beverly Altomare Wednesday night. According to the recalculated figures, Altomare will have to return $6,695.47.
"I don't have the kind of money to pay this back in the lump sums that they want me to pay," Altomare said plaintively. "If I got the money illegally, I'll pay it back, but I just need time."
As part of the settlement, the city workers were given a schedule to pay back the money.
Part of the confusion is that some did not understand the criteria for deciding who could keep the money and who had to give it back. The confusion stems from where the employees had worked before holding their current city jobs.
The 19 people who got to keep their money worked for the Community Development Agency (CDA), an agency that was formed in 1968 to initiate of the Model Cities Program to take depressed urban areas and turn them around. The CDA employees were paid by federal funds that were administered by the city, so it was determined that they could keep their longevity pay.
The remaining 26 people who had to return the money either worked outside the city or worked for the Board of Education or the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA). CETA, a program that disbanded more than 10 years ago, trained and placed Hoboken residents in jobs.
The Board of Education employees have to pay back their money because the BOE is autonomous of the city administration and are funded by school tax money and not city tax money. The CETA employees had to return their money because they were funded federally and their program was administered by the county even though they may work in the city itself.
In an interview Thursday, Mayor David Roberts said that it is still the city's intention to collect the money, but that the city is will to work with each individual case to insure that the payment schedules are as painless as possible.
"We do realize that this is a great burden that falls on the lower end of the salary scale," said the mayor. "And while I must reiterate that it is our position that we must collect the funds, we much collect them is a fair and humane way. We are working hard not to put an unfair burden on those least able to sustain themselves."
According to the mayor the city will investigate the employees case by case to make sure the longevity payments were properly calculated. If after that investigation it is deemed that money still must be paid back, the mayor said that the city will work with out individual pay schedules that are not inordinate to their income.