Tuesday, Sept. 17's meeting was held at the Bruce D. Walter Recreation Center at Fourth and West streets. The local community showed up to voice their concerns and raise issues with the mayor and the board members, who tried not only to address issues raised but also to give the audience an education in the governmental process.
Consent Agenda, explained
City Clerk Michael Licameli described how he would first review all of the matters on the "Consent Agenda" and then invite people to speak. A consent agenda is items considered routine business before the council which are generally enacted by one motion without any discussion unless a council member or citizen requests to do so. At council meetings in other municipalities, oftentimes there is no explanation of the items on this agenda, but not in Union City.
The agenda for Sept. 17 included resolutions on handicapped parking spaces, approval of a loading zone, the granting of a leave of absence to a city worker, calls for bids for cheerleading uniforms and for the conversion of some traffic signals to LED light, and the awarding of two contracts. Micromen Electronics was awarded a $20,000 contract for the city's web site and computer service, and Abbott was awarded a $140,000 contract for the renovations ongoing at the 17th Street Park under the charge of Commissioner Leggiero. The city also resolved to cancel the balance of the demolition bond and reallocate that money to other projects.
The city is extending its Temporary Municipal Budget for FY 2003 for an additional three months. The mayor explained that this extension was necessitated by the delay in the figures coming from the state of New Jersey for the amount of financial aid which will be coming to the city for that fiscal year. As one of eight "distressed cities" in the state, Union City has been receiving money from the state. Said Stack, "We're ready to move on [the budget. All] we need are the final figures from New Jersey on state aid." The city already knows that these figures will be lower than last year's and likened this phase of the financial assistance to a "weaning process" in which aid will continue to be less each year.
Resolutions were also passed settling two legal cases in which the city was involved.
Mayor Stack explained about the American Deli case: "The Board had a problem with a 24-hour deli and pulled the certificate of occupancy. Now the deli has been sold, and a new owner wants to restore the certificate of occupancy." The re-opening of the deli required negotiations with the city; as a result, the new owners agreed to earlier closing hours. Said Stack, "What's good about this is that the hours are more limited. We're not looking for all-night delis with groups of youths hanging out in front; [we're] seeking to get hours limited." Stack said this was necessary due to "repeat police activity and ties to criminality at late night delis and groceries."
Five citizens were also appointed to the advisory board for Local Law Enforcement Block Grants (LLEBG). Said Stack, "We set up a committee to review how that money is being spent." The money is federal funds for police salaries and programs.
The financial agenda items came next. They have complicated names but simpler explanations. Transfer resolutions allow money to be moved from one account to another. Claims resolutions are the payment of the city's bills, which must be voted upon by resolution. Concurring claims involve such items as public service and insurance costs. And payroll is, of course, the payroll for the employees of the city, which also must be resolved by a vote every two weeks.
Before the single motion to enact the consent agenda, the mayor then made a statement: "The commissioners have made a public statement [by bringing the meetings to the public]," he said. Indicating the size of the turnout, he added: "It's working very well. We'll be moving the meetings around the city. We do this twice a year. I try to broadcast to everyone what's going on in municipal government."
He also invited people in attendance to send in their resumes if they wish to be appointed to one of the advisory boards. He then acknowledged the work of Commissioner Leggiero for his work on renovations on the 17th Street Park. Said Stack, "[It] looks really, really beautiful. The final phase will be putting in sprinklers to keep the kids in the park and off the streets."
Regarding the progress of his efforts to improve quality of life, the mayor said of the settlement of the American Deli case: "We only have three of four all night delis [now]; this is a good start." He also said that as part of the Micromen Electronics contract, the city's web site should be ready in two months.
When the consent agenda was put before the public for comment, Union City resident Tony Cunningham requested more information about the computer contract awarded to Micromen. Cunningham gave the Mayor and the Board a compliment, "I've never been to one of these [meetings], but I like the way you're running this and educating the public."
But Cunningham also had a question. He asked them to publicly state where they live so that people would know where their representatives were from and any influence that might exert. The board complied.
The consent decree was adopted by a vote of four ayes, no nays and one [Commissioner Chris Irizarry] absent.
Ordinances for introduction
Two ordinances for introduction were also put forward. The passing of an ordinance has several stages, requiring two votes, public notification and a hearing. At this initial stage of the process, as the city clerk indicated, only the reading of the title is required. Once again, however, the public was given more information.
The first involved salary ordinances. Said Commissioner Leggiero, "I'd just like to comment on this. It took four years to resolve [with the union] and this reflects the new salary ranges within the union contracts as negotiated." Added Stack, "70 percent [of these positions] aren't filled yet. There's a hiring freeze...but we're required to do this by law."
The other ordinance for introduction, arising out of problems in rental housing last winter, related to an increase in the penalty and fee schedule. Specifically, it raises the penalty in multi-unit housing from $50 to $200 per unit per day when the landlord fails to provide heat and hot water. This also passed its first vote. Both of these ordinances will have their public hearing and final vote at the next meeting at Emerson High School on Oct. 1.
Citizens address the board
During the public's input session as well as the regular meeting, there was a great deal of focus on quality-of-life issues. The problem of young people hanging out and the need to give them something constructive to do, parking and traffic concerns, the condition of particular streets and the need for re-paving, and trash removal issues all drew specific mentions. Also, this meeting, held near the Fourth Street Housing Project, drew a great deal of feedback from residents concerned about conditions and security there.
Another common element throughout the meeting was concern with "outsiders" - people coming in from outside of the local community or even from other cities and towns and creating problems within Union City.
The mayor promised that if any question couldn't be answered in Tuesday night's meeting, that someone would get back to the citizen the next day.
Resident Mario Buinetti said, "I am very unpleased with what I see happening on Central Avenue. It's a disgrace. And the streets of Union City are a disgrace."
Addressing this complaint, the mayor referred to a problem with money coming to the city from NJ Transit and the NJ DOT. "So much of the infrastructure [of Union City] was in such bad shape when I became mayor," he said.
Buinetti also complained about the city's recycling company. At this point, voices from the crowd called out, echoing this general complaint. The mayor indicated that Commissioner Luis Martin has already been trying to deal with problems with this particular contractor. Under the previous administration, the contractor, according to the mayor, had been allowed to get away with not fulfilling their contractual obligations which include picking up so-called "white goods," the refrigerators and such left out on the street. Instead the city had been paying separately for someone else to cart these items away. When Commissioner Martin reviewed the contract, instead he found that they were actually obligated to perform this service, Stack said.
Said Martin, "11 am in the morning is not allowed. They have to be out of the city by 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. for recycling." This is necessary because the city's own sweepers come by at 8 a.m.
Mayor Stack also said that he himself had been following them around and observing them "to the extent that he could" and had seen them throwing stuff around. "I'll get the company back in in the next two weeks about throwing barrels around and damaging cars," he said.
Buinetti also brought up his concerns with the condition of Central Avenue and the problem of parking, which even Mayor Stack's initiative to phase in resident-only parking seems not to have improved yet. Buinetti pointed to the number of people who already have driveways and instead choose to park on the street, taking spaces away from those who lack a driveway or other option than the street.
Mayor Stack mentioned an effort underway to summons commercial vehicles and vans parked on the street at night. He also added that many people have been summonsed for public drinking and public urination recently in an effort to improve the quality of life in the city. As a result, said Stack: "We've seen a tremendous number of summonses being issued."
Fire department under fire
The North Hudson Regional Fire consolidation next drew particular fire from resident and retired firefighter Angelo Palombini, who protested passionately the closing of the 47th Street firehouse, also known as Engine 7. Palombini was a police officer in Union City for three years and then a firefighter for 30 more. Said Palombini before the meeting, "I was stationed [at Engine 7] for 26 years. Why does Union City have to suffer by lacking that service?" Citing the fire on 48th Street back in 1965 or 1966 in which seven people died, Palombini said, "They got there within three or four minutes. If it had taken them longer, then more people would have died. It was only a small firehouse, but it was an essential firehouse."
Palombini's problem was not with the mayor, but with the lack of power Union City has within the administration of North Hudson Regional fire department, despite paying the highest amount into the budget of the regional fire department.
The mayor responded, "I wasn't in favor of regionalization, but now I have to live with it." He indicated that his main problem with the consolidation was not that it was done, but "It was done for the wrong reasons, for a one shot source of revenue." In this, as in several other points during the meeting, Mayor Stack's frustration with what the previous administration had left to him became evident. The early buy-out retirements offered to firefighters also drew his ire. "We've lost some our most experienced men. The early buy-out cost Union City $8 million dollars that must be bonded, and we're paying for it now," he said.
Quality of life and more
Brenda Timms, who lives on Palisade Avenue, brought up concerns about the dumping of large trash items like sofas behind the building where she lives. Asked Timms, "Who is responsible for that land?"
In fact, the city and the county own most of it. The mayor expressed an interest in turning the land into a park. "I'd like to put in a park from [The Yardley Steps} up the hill to the back of your building," he said. But he indicated that these things do take time.
Timms also asked regarding the issue of property taxes, if there would be an increase or not. When assured that there will be no increase, Timms then asked if the landlord then tired to pass on a rent increase on the basis of a tax increase, it would be legal. She was told that while regular cost of living increases or sewerage increases could be legitimate, there should be no rental increases passed on additional property taxes.
"So if I have a problem with the landlord, who should I contact?" asked Timms.
"Contact me," said the mayor.
Frank Carney, speaking next, focused mainly on issues of concern in the Housing Authority. He brought up the issue of kids coming from outside areas or in large groups, unsupervised and creating problems at Fifth and Bergenline. The response to these concerns was that the Housing Authority has agreed to hire security guards for Third Street and 39th Street projects as well.
Dorothy Hennerty complained about car alarms. Stack told her to call the police if the alarm was longer than three minutes. "Oh, I'd be on the phone all day long," she said.
In addition to the regular agenda, the board also issued three proclamations. Joining in a nationwide effort, the city declared the month of September as National Alcohol and Substance Abuse Recovery month. October was proclaimed as Union City Domestic Violence Awareness month, and later in the meeting, The Union City All Stars Basketball team and their coach Augustin Gonzalez were recognized and saluted by the city.
The next meeting will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 1 at 7 p.m. at Emerson High School.