Gov’t logjam unjammed
New council majority makes over a dozen appointments to boards
by Dean DeChiaro
Reporter staff writer
Jan 12, 2014 | 4682 views | 0 0 comments | 154 154 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Council
CHANGING OF THE GUARD – Jennifer Giattino, who served as the vice president of the Hoboken City Council in 2013, was elected by the governing body as its new president on Tuesday. Here, she is sworn in by City Clerk James Farina, while her predecessor, Sixth Ward Councilman Peter Cunningham, looks on.
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In just a few hours, the Hoboken City Council made more appointments to three municipal boards than it had throughout all of 2013, the difference on Tuesday night being that the new council majority – propped up by newly-seated Councilman James Doyle and staunchly allied with Mayor Dawn Zimmer – was finally in control after a year of political stagnancy.

Newly-elected Council President Jennifer Giattino, who took over for 6th Ward Councilman Peter Cunningham, took a “no nonsense” approach to the board appointments, effectively telling Zimmer’s opponents on the council that while they could vote no, it would make little difference.

Vacancies on the city’s zoning, planning and housing boards made headlines throughout 2013, but in December, Cunningham said that he wouldn’t pursue any appointments until the new year. With Doyle breaking the previous deadlock on the council, giving Zimmer’s allies a 5-4 majority, the appointments were no longer an object of debate.
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“The dynamic on this council has changed.” -- 4th Ward Councilman Tim Occhipinti
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Third Ward Councilman Michael Russo and 2nd Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason took issue with what they perceived as brashness on Giattino’s part. When a resolution came up to a vote to name nine residents to the zoning board (which has seven members and four alternates), Russo and Mason said they’d never seen it beforehand, and that regardless of the names on the list, they were upset that it hadn’t been presented to them previously.

Giattino said that the list of names had been generated that day, after she asked Cunningham to put it together. Russo said he thought the majority’s presentation of names just before a vote was not done in the spirit of cooperation, invoking the hope for working together that Zimmer had advocated in her second inaugural address on Saturday (see related story).

Fourth Ward Councilman Tim Occhipinti, who lost to Zimmer in the November mayoral election, offered a sobering view of the council’s new makeup.

“Elections have consequences,” he said, noting that he had also not seen the list. “The dynamic on this council has changed.”

New appointees

In all, the meeting saw nine residents appointed to the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustments, one to the Planning Board, two to the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, and one to the board of the North Hudson Sewerage Authority.

The terms of Zoning Board Chairman James Aibel and John Branciforte were renewed, and Tiffany Fisher, Antonio Grana, Phil Cohen, Brian Urbano, Diane Fitzmeyer Murphy, Owen McAnuff, and Richard Trimitiedi were appointed to a variety of one, two, three, and four-year terms. Aibel, Cohen, Fitzmeyer Murphy and Grana will serve as regular members, while the remaining four will serve as alternate members.

The council also reappointed its newly elected council vice president, Ravi Bhalla, as its representative on the Planning Board. Bhalla is a lawyer and has dealt with landlord/tenant issues. Dana Wefer (who has run for Morris County freeholder as a Democrat) and James Sanford (who has run for state Senate as a Republican) were appointed to the housing board, and Brian Assadourian, who has run for local school board in the past, was named the city’s new representative on the North Hudson Sewerage Authority.

Dean DeChiaro may be reached at deand@hudsonreporter.com

SIDEBAR


Former Hoboken official awarded over $1 million by jury

The city of Hoboken was ordered by a superior court jury to pay a former director of public safety $625,000 in punitive damages last week after the City Council voted down an undisclosed settlement that was previously reached between the city’s lawyers and an attorney for the official.

Angel Alicea, who sued the city for discrimination following his resignation in April 2011, already had won an award of $440,000 in retroactive salary two weeks earlier. Now the city will pay out more than $1 million.

Alicea had filed a joint suit against the city and Mayor Dawn Zimmer, though a jury absolved Zimmer of any wrongdoing.

“I think it was a fair ruling,” said Alicea’s attorney, Louis Zayas. “The jury ruled that the city’s conduct was despicable and should be punished, and hopefully it will deter similar conduct in the future.”

In late December, a jury sided with Alicea in his suit against the city, but found Zimmer personally not guilty. Alicea said he was racially abused as a Hispanic male, while Zimmer has stated she asked for his resignation because he lied about meeting with Solomon Dwek, a federal informant at the center of the Bid Rig sting investigation in 2009.

In a statement, Zimmer said she was surprised by the jury’s decision, and stood by her request for Alicea’s resignation two years ago.

“I requested Mr. Alicea’s resignation because he did not tell the truth to me or to the public and the press about the two meetings that he had with Solomon Dwek,” she said.

Zimmer also stated that Dwek offered Alicea illegal cash contributions for the City Council election he was involved in at the time. Zimmer said that Alicea was aware of the laws due to his history as a police officer, and did not report the offers to law enforcement.

Zimmer said Alicea told her that he had admitted being offered the money, and described it as “having money thrown at him, and him throwing the money back.”

Zimmer said he also discussed the offers during court proceedings.

The mayor went on to question the consistency of the jury’s decision, because it found her not guilty, but found the city guilty.

“The jury correctly found that I personally did not discriminate against Mr. Alicea on the basis of his ethnicity when I asked for his resignation. This determination is completely inconsistent with the jury’s decision to hold the city of Hoboken and its taxpayers financially responsible,” she said. “The city is examining all of its legal options and will take all necessary steps to protect the interests of the city and its taxpayers.”

Alicea withdrew his damages claim after he was awarded back pay and agreed to settle with the city, but brought his damages claim back to court last week after the council voted to reject it by a 5-2 vote.

The amount of the original settlement with the City Council remained secret last week, as the Hoboken Reporter’s request for the amount via the state’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA) was denied by the city’s Law Department. They cited ongoing litigation and attorney/client privilege, amongst other reasons.

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