An issue that seems to have more lives than a cat resurfaced at the City Council meeting Wednesday night. An issue that seems to have more lives than a cat resurfaced at the City Council meeting Wednesday night. For the third time in two months, the council debated the propriety of paying a bill of more than $7,000 to Meadowlands Associates, a one-man public relations firm with a close relationship to Mayor Anthony Russo. For the third time in two months, the meeting adjourned without any action being taken on the outstanding bill as the council deadlocked on a vote to pay the contractor 4-4. One councilperson, Roseann Andreula, was absent and did not vote. The issue was brought up yet again by Council President Nellie Moyeno, who warned that if the matter goes to court, the costs associated with the legal wrangling could set the city back a lot more than $7,000 "I'm bringing this back to the table because I am trying to prevent the city from having to face a lawsuit over this," said Moyeno in a statement to the council. "If we don't decide to pay this today, we will have to pay double or triple the bill for something that we could get rid of today." But Moyeno's logic didn't change any minds. Councilmen Dave Roberts, Michael Cricco, Ruben Ramos Jr. and Tony Soares voted against the measure just as they had the first time the council was faced with the issue Feb. 2. The councilmen have presented an avalanche of reasons not to pay the $7,758 bill. It had to do with a mailer sent around to city residents that boasted of the city's achievements. Council members complained that they didn't all have input into it. The newsletter was prepared by Meadowlands Associates, run by Anthony Amabile, a long-time political consultant to Mayor Anthony Russo. Thirty five minutes
Wednesday night, after a 35 minute discussion behind closed doors related to the bill, council members recapped many of their arguments against paying Amabile. "On this issue, I think it is important that the City Council send a clear message that it is not appropriate for any directors [of city government] to approve an expenditure and then come to the City Council asking for payment after the fact," Roberts told the council. Several of the councilmen have argued that the firm should have contacted them to get their thoughts about the newsletter, since it was meant to be an open letter to residents from the mayor and the council. "My problem is that we were not even extended the common courtesy of asking our input even though our names were on it," said Ramos. One councilman said he thought the threat of a lawsuit was just a red herring that was being presented to the council to try and scare members into voting for the bill's payment. "We have not received any written communication from the vendor on this," said Soares. "It seems to me that this administration is acting on behalf of this vendor by trying to scare us into thinking there is going to be a big lawsuit. But I'm not going to be threatened by a law suit from doing what's right." Soares also said that the city had established a practice of not paying contractors for work that it feels was done improperly. Reached in his office a day after the vote, Amabile said that he was going to aggressively pursue the matter through the courts since it did not appear that the council was going to pay the bill. "I've exhausted remedies to settle this amicably," he said. "I'm not only going to take them to civil court; I am also going to pursue criminal charges for fraud by deception and theft of services. The city presented me with a purchase order for this. Its not like I just went out there and printed a newsletter on my own. Now they are not paying. If they requested services and then decided not to pay for them, that is theft of services. Or if they ordered services without ever intending to pay for them, that is fraud." Amabile said that he intended to pursue his charges against the four councilmen who had voted against paying the bill, although he did not have any details about how he would go about doing it or how long it would take. "The taxpayers are really the ones who are going to lose because of this," Amabile added. "I've had to borrow money to pay the costs associated with this project." After the meeting, Moyeno said that she would be amenable to bringing up the issue once again. Although Andreula voted against the measure when it came up the first time, Moyeno appeared to be hopeful that the councilwoman would reconsider her vote in light of the possible lawsuit. "I don't have a problem with bringing this back to the table again," she said. "But it really depends on the individual that owns the PR firm and what he wants to do from here." They hate surprises
Council President Nellie Moyeno announced at Wednesday night's council meeting that she would no longer allow members to add items to the city council's agenda after the Friday preceding the legislative body's twice monthly meetings. "That way, council members will have plenty of time to get in touch with directors [of city government] if they have questions that need answers about the agenda before the meeting," she explained. Her pronouncement provoked a half-reproach filled, half-gleeful response from Councilmen Dave Roberts and Ruben Ramos Jr. The councilmen said they had sponsored a resolution at a contentious council meeting in August that would have codified the Friday rule, only to be rebuffed by their colleagues. "This makes good sense," said Roberts. "There was a ferocious debate that occurred in resistance to this before, but it is a good idea and I wish it was adopted a year ago." Moyeno's idea was spurred by a rush of last minute resolutions that were tacked onto the agenda for Wednesday night's meeting. When council members took their seats at the dais to begin the meeting, they were presented with an agenda containing 13 resolutions even though information on only seven resolutions had been sent to them for their consideration in the days leading up to the meeting. After a flurry of paper shuffling as the members tried to gather the information related to the newly-added resolutions, two were pulled from the agenda for consideration by a subcommittee. Roberts, a 14-year member of the council, said that he thought the Friday deadline would benefit the public as well as the legislators. "We used to have the caucus meetings on Monday nights and the regular council business on Wednesday," he explained. "But then they changed the rules to have them one after the other on Wednesday. That really cut down on the amount of time that the public has to find out about the issues that the council is working on. For the members, it means that we are often times facing an agenda that has jumped from nine resolutions to 22. When that happens, you are forced to react using your gut and your instincts on an important piece of city business rather than a well thought-out and judicious reasoning."