Mayor Dawn Zimmer and the city’s legal department are looking into potential lease violations at the Hoboken Boys and Girls Club, but Club Executive Director Gary Greenberg said that recent allegations are either untrue or already have been resolved with the city.
The Club is a non-profit organization that provides Hoboken students with recreational opportunities and a place to complete their homework after school.
Last Sept. 28, the mayor sent a letter to Greenberg expressing her concern with possible issues of mold and rodent droppings in the city-owned building at 123 Jefferson St. The Club and the city had agreed to a 50-year lease for the building at $2 per year in 1994.
The city’s lease states that no commercial activities are to be conducted on the premises without the city’s prior permission.
“The Lessee … will not rent or lease the facility for commercial purposes without first obtaining City permission nor will any commercial activities be conducted at the facility,” states the lease.
The Boys and Girls Club is also supposed to submit to the city’s business administrator an annual report outlining the activities at the Club as well as revenues.
According to correspondence between Greenberg and the mayor’s office provided to the Reporter, the Club ended up providing City Hall with financial information dating back to 2005. The mayor did not get information from 2001 to 2004.
Greenberg said last week that he has provided the mayor with everything she asked for.
“I’m just upset and astounded by the way it was handled,” Greenberg said, adding that the issues were resolved months ago. But not according to City Hall.
Last week, the mayor told the press that the city’s legal team is still looking into various matters regarding the Club.
Zimmer said that part of why she looked into the matters is that she “has been told that different groups have been going in there for commercial purposes. That’s something they shouldn’t be doing.”
“We use it during the day when it’s not in use by the Boys and Girls Club.” – Jennifer Hindman Sargent
ZogSports, an adult recreation company, uses the building at night, but Greenberg said it’s not a violation of the lease.
“Other groups have used the building in the evening,” he said. “We have groups using it at night, but every single group that’s ever been in there has never used the building for commercial purposes.”
However, ZogSports is a for-profit company. Greenberg said he wasn’t sure if prior notice was given to the city. He said he doesn’t see a problem with a community group using the building for adult recreation activities.
The mayor would not go into detail about what exactly the city plans to do or which organizations they are looking into.
Zog’s activities begin at 8 p.m., after the Club hours, Greenberg said.
“I figured it’s a way to use the gymnasium from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. in a very constructive way,” he said. “It’s extremely structured and organized. They are a very positive, community-based group...If they were manufacturing gloves or running a different company, that would be a breach to me.”
Greenberg said any money collected from Zog by the Club goes “literally into the building,” to help pay gas, electric, and other bills.
Greenberg said, “We do not feel that we are violating any aspect of the lease. We’ve been following those rules before there even was a lease in place.”
A non-profit charter school has also aroused the ire of various Zimmer supporters who have made angry comments on the internet, saying the school’s use of the building has forced activities at the Club to be cut. The charter school, HoLa, has several people involved who have been political opponents of the mayor, a factor that may be partially fueling those comments. For example, rumored potential council or mayoral candidate for 2013 Frank Raia is a trustee on the HoLa board. On-line comments regarding the Club controversy have taken jabs at Raia.
Jennifer Hindman Sargent, a founder of HoLa and president of the board, said she has been keeping an eye on the discussions between the Boys and Girls Club and the city.
“We’ve been reassured [by the Boys and Girls Club] that the discussions won’t have an impact on us,” she said last week.
People posting on local websites have said HoLa’s activities have pushed the needy kids of the Boys and Girls Club out of the space or forced activities to be curtailed. Sargent said it’s not true.
“We use it during the day when it’s not in use by the Boys and Girls Club,” she said. “They’re an after school program…that’s why our school day ends at 2:30 p.m.”
However, there are some after-school activities that HoLa conducts in the Boys and Girls Club.
Greenberg and Sargent said there is no conflict.
“We do some things jointly,” Sargent said. “They invite us to their events. There are some things that overlap, but the truth is they have an after school program that’s very structured. It’s important for us to not interfere with that.”
Greenberg said that kids come to the Club after school lets out, which is after 2:30.
Hindman Sargent said her school would never have agreed to operate out of the premises if there was going to be a negative impact on the Boys and Girls Club. She said the tone of the discussions online is “very negative.”
When asked if she thinks the controversy may be political, Hindman Sargent said she believes “everything is political in Hoboken,” but she admits she doesn’t understand why.
“I think it’s so complex and there’s so much political history,” she said. “But I think it will be very unfortunate if kids from either organization end up being caught in the middle of it or suffer.”
Zimmer declined to get into specifics when asked about the HoLa aspect.
“Basically, we’re doing a review,” she said. “My whole position is we’re looking at options to make sure the proper services are primarily to Hoboken children. That’s what it’s all about.”
Hot meal controversy
Greenberg has come under fire recently because the Club apparently replaced the hot meals that used to be served to the kids with Kool Aid and Rice Krispie Treats.
“There’s been concerns about mold, or if children are being pushed out, and getting proper meals,” Zimmer said. “I was disappointed to see Gary Greenberg quoted [in another news story] as saying they shifted from a full meal to Kool Aid and Rice Krispie treats. To me, that’s really disheartening and unacceptable…I’m looking to advocate for these children and make sure they’re being provided with proper programming.”
Greenberg, who said the mold and droppings situation has since been taken care of, said the food switch was made consciously with the goals of the Club in mind.
“We were serving hot meals but it was so complicated and took so long to prepare it, cook it, serve it, and clean it up that by the time the kids got done eating, they only had an hour left before they all go home,” he said. “We replaced it with a healthy snack. I was there [last week] and I saw them getting apples and string cheese. We’re working toward improving that so it would be as close to a hot meal as possible.”
When asked about Kool Aid and Rice Krispie Treats, Greenberg said that the snacks change every day, and they try to make them healthy snacks.
Greenberg added that the building doesn’t have a full size cafeteria.
HoLa sometimes uses the kitchen, Greenberg confirmed, but he said it never conflicts with the Club’s activities.
Greenberg said he is willing to answer any questions the city has.
Greenberg, a 37-year employee of the Boys and Girls Club, said he was disheartened that on-line comments made it seem like he didn’t care about the children.
“Not only am I concerned, but it’s my life and my passion,” he said.
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