The JCRA added an extra $26,000 to the costs in the contract already in place for the law firm of Scarinci and Hollenbeck, ending this past Sept. 1. This would bring the fees earned by Scarinci to $131,000 for that year. The second resolution entered the JCRA into a new contract for legal services from Scarinci and Hollenbeck starting from Sept. 1, 2002 and ending in Aug. 31, 2003. A stipulation in the new contract states fees charged by Scarinci's law firm may not exceed $125,000 yearly.
Commenting on the added $26,000 to the last contract for legal representation, JCRA Chairman and Jersey City Council member E. Junior Maldonado stated that when dealing with vendor there were occasions when added expenses came up, such as court related expenses.
Maldonado, with JCRA Commissioners Steve Lipski, Rafael Diaz, and Arthur Zigman, voted in favor of the amendments, while Priscilla Gardner, Oren Dabney and Edward Santiago voted against.
Stating he had not examined the amendments to the contract, Santiago moved that the resolution be tabled until the next meeting. Legal counsel Scarinci stated since the two resolutions had been moved for approval and seconded, that they had to be voted on before any move could be made to table them.
Dabney asked for clarification on one point of the amendments, calling for the creation of escrows accounts in future contracts with developers.
"We would set up escrows from developers to pay for professional fees such as engineering, architectural and legal fees," stated Barbara Netchert, the JCRA's acting executive director. "This is an effort to reduce overall legal fees. We are doing this as a tax saving effort."
The amendments to the contract for legal services from the politically-connected Scarinci and Hollenbeck have been the center of some controversy in last two months. At the Aug. 29 meeting of the JCRA, Jersey City Mayor Glenn Cunningham interrupted the proceedings to read a letter into the record. In the letter, Cunningham stated the JCRA had recently become "out of control," adding that the firm of Scarinci and Hollenbeck had billed the agency $142,839.90. Cunningham contrasted this amount with what he says were charges from previous agency counsels, totaling $40,848.
According to JCRA documents, the law firm of Scarinci and Hollenbeck received a total of $187,889.32 in legal fees for the period Aug. 1, 2001 to July 31, 2002. The only firm to receive more was DeCotiis, Fitzpatrick, Gluck and Cole, which was paid $292,193.88.
Maldonado stated DeCotiis was a supporter of Cunningham in his election bid.
Cunningham went on to state in the letter that Scarinci has been given control of the agency by the commissioners. The resolution appointing Scarinci general counsel for the agency was first presented at an April 18 meeting, but was not voted on until Thursday.
Maldonado replied to the mayor's accusations in a letter of his own dated Sept. 19. First asserting the independence of the JCRA from the mayor's office, Maldonado stated that Cunningham recommended the appointment of Scarinci and Hollenbeck as the agency's legal representative in 2001, the year of the mayor's election.
Replying to the mayor's assertion that there was no written resolution appointing Scarinci general counsel, Maldonado stated, "I personally read the resolution appointing [Scarinci and Hollenbeck] into the public record and distributed to the commissioners written copies of the resolution at the April 18th, 2002 meeting."
"The commissioners of this agency are now empowered to review every item that comes to a vote through a committee structure," said Maldonado, in regards to accusations of Scarinci's control of the agency. Scarinci stated he reviews items before the agency only in his capacity as general legal counsel to the JCRA.
Maldonado added that the committee, which would review all items before the agency, would be comprised of three commissioners and relevant JCRA staff who will confer before all scheduled meetings. These conferences would be held without the presence of general counsel and a report would be made to the full board.
The conflict between the mayor and the JCRA leadership has been seen as part of a long-standing political conflict between Cunningham and Congressman Bob Menendez. Scarinci is said to have close ties to Rep. Robert Menendez. Cunningham has stated that politicians outside Jersey City have sought to use the agency as "a cash cow." Maldonado denied at a City Council meeting last week that there was any outside influence on the JCRA.
A new development
In other business before the JCRA, developer David Barry of Summit Associates, Inc. made a brief presentation to the board regarding affordable housing in the area of Summit and Cornelison avenues. Responding to concerns expressed by community members about a parcel of park-like area at 52 Summit Ave., Barry has relocated the condos that would have been built there to Cornelison Avenue.
"There will now only be 36 apartment units built, reducing the original number by 10," said Barry.
According to Barry, there will be two-bedroom and three-bedroom structures built along Cornelison, complete with a small road, which allow cars to exit and enter from Cornelison.
"Each unit will have a parking spot on the road side," Barry explained. "Due to the slight cliff on Cornelison, a two-spot garage will be built on each unit."
Barry added the price of a two-bedroom unit will be approximately $90,000 and the three-bedroom unit will go for between $110,000 and $115,000.
In early July, a number of Summit Avenue residences protested the building of the housing by Summit Associates, fearing the loss of the open space at 52 Summit Ave. and the exclusion of the residents from the development process. Barry said he has since spoken on multiple occasions to the neighborhood groups in the area to discuss construction in the area. Barry added he would soon submit a site plan to the required city agencies.