Ever since Councilman Tim Occhipinti took office in November, the nine-member City Council has had a 5-4 majority against Mayor Dawn Zimmer, and the administration’s initiatives that were once regularly approved are now under attack.
At Wednesday’s council meeting, an ordinance making the Hertz Corner Cars program permanent was again rejected by the majority. Also, a council-imposed $25 fee for kids participating in recreation teams was repealed by the majority, but Zimmer later vetoed their repeal in order to keep the money coming into the city’s coffers.
This coming May, six of the nine council seats are up for election.
On Wednesday night, the council repealed a $25-per-sport fee that they unanimously passed earlier this year. Before that, Hoboken recreation programs were free for the city’s kids.
But Thursday, Zimmer vetoed the ordinance repealing the fee, thus keeping the fee in place. Families that demonstrate financial hardship do not have to pay.
Zimmer said she believes the fee is a “good policy for the city of Hoboken.”
This is the first time Zimmer has exercised her veto power.
Councilman Michael Russo, who voted for the repeal of the fee, said he opposes the veto and believes the fee is a “tax on the children.”
“She is a tax-and-spend mayor,” Russo said. “She’s taxing the children just like she’s taxed all the adults.”
The supporters of Zimmer, both in Wednesday’s audience and on the council, believed that since many other municipalities impose a similar or higher tax, the fee was not unreasonable.
Michael Lenz, the former 4th Ward councilman defeated by Occhipinti on Nov. 2, made his first return to a meeting to address the council as a member of the public.
“Twenty five dollars is not an amount of money that is outrageous,” Lenz said. He said before the fees were introduced, children would sign up for many sports and not participate.
Of course, not everyone agreed.
“We should never balance budgets on the backs of children,” said resident Perry Belfiore at the meeting. “Give the kids a break. Everybody vote yes [to repeal].”
Director of Health and Human Services Leo Pellegrini spoke before the council in support of the fee. Pellegrini provided statistics which showed that participation has not dropped since the introduction of the fee, and said the $25 charge allows his department to create opportunities for more children to participate by expanding programs.
“I can’t increase my budget, so this creates opportunities,” Pellegrini said. “If they’re paying the fee, we can provide more programs.”
Councilwoman Theresa Castellano said that even if families can apply for a hardship, the process could be “extremely divisive.”
Councilman Ravi Bhalla called the repeal political and said he believes those who support the repeal are hiding behind the children.
The administration is currently drafting new legislation in order to codify the exemption system for children who cannot afford to pay the charge, according to Zimmer.
Occhipinti plans to bring the issue back to the City Council in January.
Prez and VP resign positions
Councilwoman Carol Marsh and Councilman Ravinder Bhalla have resigned their positions as council president and vice president. The resignation will take effect on Jan. 5, at the first council meeting of 2011.
The new majority already had taken steps to change the rules of organization to elect a new council president. Sources have said the next council president will be 2nd Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason, a frequent Zimmer critic.
Bhalla said the decision to resign was made because “the new majority made their intentions fairly clear” and the resignation will lead to a “smooth transition of power.”
On Dec. 1, the council had voted for a rule allowing a five-member vote to replace the council president at any time. The original rules stated that re-organization would take place on an annual basis in July. Most Hoboken elections take place in May. The majority of the council believes that since an election took place in November, they should be able to change the leadership now.
Students and City Hall retirees recognized
Also during the meeting, a group of students from Hoboken High School who publish a school newspaper were honored by Zimmer and the council. Zimmer said she believes everyone in the city should be aware of the publication, The Red Wing Reader.
“It’s going to be linked in on our website,” Zimmer said. “We want to have it available in City Hall.”
Two City Hall employees, Maria Corcoran and Shirley Dennis, were also honored because they are about to retire. Zimmer said Corcoran “set the standard of excellence” at City Hall. Denise has worked at City Hall since Feb. 24, 1969.
Dennis thanked the mayors she worked under, and shared stories from her 40 years of work in city government.
Also, a proclamation from Zimmer and a resolution put forth by Councilman Nino Giacchi honored shoemaker Vinchenzo Perrupato and his father Giovanni. The city will rename the corner of Seventh and Garden streets “Giovanni D’Italia Cobbler’s Corner,” where the shop has been doing business for 50 years.
“Congratulations, and I wish you another 50 years,” Giacchi said.
Corner Cars ordinance stopped at a long red light
Also at the meeting, the council majority again gave a slap to the Zimmer administration’s initiative to place Hertz rental cars on the streets. An ordinance to establish parking spaces for the entire duration of the Corner Cars program was voted down for the third straight meeting.
Parking and Transportation Director Ian Sacs once again urged the council to establish the spaces by ordinance. The spaces have been established only by resolution since the program’s inception, and that approval will expire in mid-June, a month after the May election in which six ward seats will be up for grabs.
According to the corporation counsel’s office, parking spaces in New Jersey need to be established by ordinance. Currently, the spaces are designated “temporary” and will stay that way unless an ordinance is passed.
Zimmer said on Thursday she was disappointed in the vote, and called on the council to “follow the law” and establish the spots as an ordinance. Even when Zimmer held the majority, the council voted to establish the spots by resolution; however, the administration feels that the spots are now pushing the legal limits of a temporary resolution, and under the advice of corporation counsel should be established by ordinance.
The ordinance to establish the spaces failed on a 5-3 vote.
The next council meeting will be Jan. 5, 2011, when the Corner Cars ordinance may again be introduced, and a new council president will likely take control of the gavel, as well as the legislation.
Ray Smith may be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com