In what is now becoming a familiar refrain, Councilman Ruben Ramos Jr., who represents the 4th Ward where the HHA is located, complained that he was not told of the nomination until 30 minutes before he was expected to vote on it.
"This happened without even a phone call letting us know about it," said the 26-year-old councilman, his voice rising in anger. "This is not only a slap in the face to me, but it is a slap in the face of all the residents of the HHA. The selection process is not a very fair one if it is not a democratic one. I could not possibly support someone - even if it were my own mother - without talking with the people who live there first."
In the past Ramos had demanded that he, and the residents of the HHA that he is in contact with, be included in the nomination of new board members. Despite his previous pleas, he was not consulted about the nominations of City Councilwoman Nellie Moyeno or HHA resident Gene Rodriquez. Both commissioners were appointed last spring.
While Ramos' complaints tended to touch off shouting matches in the council chambers in the past, this time the tension in the room was diffused by Mayor Anthony Russo, who quickly strode to the microphone to apologize. "Ruben, you have a point," he said. "I should have given you a copy [of the nomination] as soon as I got it. I'm sorry."
The mayor also pointed out that he was not the one sponsoring Alicea. Under the board's rules the mayor technically only has the power to appoint one member to the seven-member board. Alicea was nominated by Councilman Stephen Hudock.
"I think it is imperative that we have an additional Hispanic sitting on the board," Hudock explained before the vote. "[Alicea] is a fine gentleman."
Alicea is a police lieutenant in Union City and has served on the Hoboken Board of Education in the past. Although council members did not dispute Alicea's qualifications, Ramos and his allies on the council, Dave Roberts and Tony Soares, opposed his nomination. Despite their opposition, Alicea was approved on a vote of 5-3.
Frank Raia, a major developer in town, was also slated to be nominated for the final empty slot on the board. But the council pulled the nomination back to give Raia more time to "triple-check" to insure that serving would not present any serious conflict of interest due to his business interests in town. City officials said they expected to be able to nominate Raia at the next meeting.
The shuffling of the board is taking place during a particularly dicey time at the HHA. Rumors have circulated around town for months that Executive Director E. Troy Washington who took over the post almost two years ago will be asked to step down due to some conflicts he has had with some of the projects' residents.
In response to the rumors, the HUD regional office which oversees the HHA sent a letter to the board last month saying that it would frown on the removal of Mr. Washington since he still has eight months left on his contract. To remove the embattled Executive Director, the agency would have to buy out the remainder of his contract. Linda Walker, an outspoken resident of the HHA who spoke during the public comment period of the council meeting, said that she was not even sure just asking was enough.
"I feel that with the council, our comments go in one ear and out the other," she said. "Whatever we say doesn't seem to mean anything. To date we have not had any input about who sits on our board. I think it is awful when none of you have lived in the HHA. You have no idea what the daily living conditions are like there and yet you vote in the people who control out lives."
Rent Control amendment goes down
A rent control amendment ordinance that has been pooh-poohed by a number of activists in town was defeated on a 4-4 vote at the City Council meeting Wednesday night. The amendment, which was only up for introduction - not final passage - would have put a limit on the amount of time a tenant could apply for a rebate if his landlord were charging him an illegal rent.
It also would have instituted so-called full disclosure regulations which would have required landlords to notify tenants at the lease signing that rent control exists in Hoboken. Landlords would also be required to notify their new tenants what the previous tenant had paid to live in the unit.
If the landlord failed to comply with the full disclosure regulations, the tenant would not be limited in his ability to claim a rebate. Under the terms of the measure, the tenant would have two years to seek a rebate if he were properly notified at the lease signing.
City officials said that putting some sort of cap on the amount of time that a landlord could apply for a rebate would protect landlords from owing vast sums of money to tenants who may have been slightly overcharged for years.
"I [know of] a tenant whose rent is going from $2,600 a month to $700," explained Carole McLaughlin, the city's rent stabilization and rent leveling chief. "The tenant is going to get a $25,000 rebate. I've got a landlord who owes $89,000. These are not people who were intentionally overcharging their tenants. They are old timers who maybe raised the rent $10 when they should have raised it $6. Over the years that money can add up." This is not the first time that rent control amendment legislation related to this issue was introduced. At last month's meeting a similar measure was laid before the council. But that measure, like this one, elicited a storm of protest from tenants' rights activists.
So it was re-introduced with some changes to try and allay their concerns.
"This is nothing new," explained the council's lawyer, Robert Murray. "What happened is that a tenant advocate spoke with Linda Sabat, an attorney with my firm, concerning certain language in the ordinance. Certain changes were made based on those conversations."
But the changes were not enough for tenant advocates in the audience. Dan Tumpson and Annette Illing, both longtime activists, urged the council not to introduce the measure at all.
"This encourages lawlessness by giving the landlord a prize if he can get away with charging illegal rents for a certain amount of time," said Tumpson.
Illing took a different tack.
"I really object violently to the process that has been going on for nine months now," she said. "You go and propose changes to the rent control law, the residents object, so you change it. Then you introduce it just a few minutes before you are going to go and vote on it. I'm sorry, people, you are mistreating the public."
Councilman Richard Del Boccio did not take to Illing's charges kindly.
"This is just rhetoric for the press," he told her as she walked back to her seat. Del Boccio also pointed out that the measure was just up for introduction and that there would be plenty of time for debate when the measure comes up for final passage at a future meeting.
After all the arguing, the measure failed. Councilmen Michael Cricco, Ruben Ramos Jr., Dave Roberts and Tony Soares voted against it. Council President Nellie Moyeno was absent.
After the vote, Cricco said that he did favor some sort of a time cap, but he pointed out that two years was too short.
"You can't say that someone can just go for five years and then they owe you a big fat check," he said. "Maybe five years is too long and two years is too short. We should look at something in between."