In the case of United States of America v. Peter Cammarano III and Michael Schaffer, the FBI alleges that former Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano believed in trading Zoning Board help for campaign cash.
Schaffer, a former councilman and Cammarano’s alleged go-between, is quoted as telling a prospective developer who was also an FBI informant, “[W]e put our friends on the boards so we know we get the – don’t listen to these morons who say put this environmentalist on, but they’re, they’re all [expletive] kooks.”
Coincidentally, in the weeks before Cammarano was arrested, the City Council was trying to move the power to appoint members to the Zoning Board of Adjustments back into their court. The seven-member Zoning Board is the group that can give developers a variance – which is permission to deviate from existing zoning regulations for height, density, parking space requirements, and other issues.
Former Mayor Anthony Russo, who eventually went to jail for corruption, had taken the power to appoint board members away from the council during the 1990s and proceeded to pack the board with many loyalists who gave out numerous variances.
On Wednesday, the council voted unanimously to take that power back.
And the opponents of the vote who had spoken out against the change at the previous meeting – before the FBI sting arrests – were noticeably silent or absent this time around.
Now appointments to the seven-member board will need council majority approval, rather than just a mayoral appointment. There are also two alternate board members to the board.
Council President Dawn Zimmer said last week that it doesn’t matter who the mayor is. “Nine people…are less corruptible than one,” she said.
All seven council members present voted for the measure. Council members Michael Russo and Theresa Castellano, who are cousins, were not present. Russo was at his engagement party.
Setting the salaries
At the meeting, the council also set salaries for the mayor, council members, and department directors.
The mayor’s salary was reduced by 10 percent by the council last year, restored by Fiscal Monitor Judy Tripodi, and reduced again from $129,894 to $116,904 by Acting Mayor Dawn Zimmer before the council took a vote.
Before Zimmer took the helm in City Hall, the council majority was pressuring Cammarano to remove longevity payments from the salaries of these positions. Last week, with Cammarano out of the picture, the council took away longevity pay.
Longevity pay is only for full-time employees and is based on years of service. There are tiers for each bump in pay. For instance, city directors used to receive a 2 percent increase in their fourth year and 4 percent increase in their seventh year. Other positions have different scales and regulations determined by collective bargaining agreements.
Paying top dollar
Directors are slated to make no more than $115,000, except for the Director of Public Safety ($27,500).
Council members earn $24,130 per year, and the council president receives $26,541.
Zimmer said at the meeting that although she could legally receive both the council president’s salary and the mayor’s salary – she is doing both jobs through the end of the year – she has opted to only receive the salary as mayor.
Councilwoman Beth Mason was the lone vote against the ordinance, claiming she hoped for larger cuts to the top salaries. Mason said the overall budget will be reduced by roughly 30 percent this year, and she wanted to see a similar reduction in these salaries.
During her campaign for mayor last spring, Mason mentioned numerous times that she did not receive a council salary or benefits – but shortly after she lost the election in May, she requested that the city refund her for the salary that she wasn’t previously receiving and reestablish it going forward.
Mason didn’t answer when asked by the Reporter whether she would be willing to forgo her council salary again, saying only, “It should start at the top.”
Vacancies at the Housing Authority
The City Council ended an open application period for a vacancy on the seven-member Hoboken Housing Authority board on Friday. According to Zimmer, they will review the 15 or so applications they received as of last Wednesday in committee.
“Nine people…are less corruptible than one.” – Dawn Zimmer
Zimmer said she’s not sure whether the city will hold another open period for the seat recently vacated by Hector Claveria when he resigned last week following his arrest on bribery charges.
The Zoning and Planning Committee will most likely review the applications for the housing board and recommend a candidate to the council, but even if a candidate is not recommended, the person can be nominated by any council member who has a second, Zimmer said.
Among those applying will be former city financial officer Michael Lenz, a Zimmer ally (see cover story).
State park money sparse
The council submitted an application for state Green Acres grant funding to help acquire land in southwest Hoboken for a park, but several officials who spoke said the state’s coffers are dry right now.
“My understanding is that Green Acres does not have that much money right now,” Zimmer said.
According to City Attorney Steven Kleinman, should the state approve the application, they will dole out the money if and when it becomes available.
Mason announced a community meeting to review her alternate development plan for the northwestern part of town, which would include a minor league baseball stadium.
The meeting is on Wednesday, Aug. 9 from 7 to 9 p.m. at St. Matthew’s Church, 57 Eighth St.
Mason also had some resolutions that she tried to have put on the agenda the day of the meeting. A few resolutions were introduced by her at the previous meeting and were accidentally left off this agenda. Kleinman apologized at the meeting for the mixup.
But Mason was also trying to squeeze other measure onto the agenda on Wednesday, just hours before the meeting.
An ordinance she submitted on Wednesday called for the “suspension of salary subject to charges under the laws of the United States and/or the state of New Jersey for elected official(s) or director(s) of the city of Hoboken.”
The resolution calls for removal hearings of any board members “implicated in illegal activities.”
The resolution did not come up for a vote, but may at a future meeting.
Check out our continuously updated breaking news and leave a comment.
Timothy J. Carroll may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Residents comment on Cammarano, and on internet attacks
During the public speaking portion of the council meeting, several members of the public commented about the recent arrest and resignation of former Mayor Peter Cammarano.
Resident Charlie Mancini said corruption is “ingrained” in politics and can tempt “even the best among us.”
He added half-jokingly, “When you come to collect my taxes, to avoid any pretense, I’d like you to come with a gun and a mask.”
Mary Ondrejka asked Kleinman whether Gov. Jon Corzine’s move to have the state comptroller review unspecified city contracts in towns connected to the corruption sting applies to Hoboken.
Kleinman said it did, although he could not say what the nature of any reviews would be.
“I can’t say that the process has even started yet,” he said.
Jim Vance railed at the meeting against being accused of anonymous internet commenting. He said Councilman Dave Mello once threatened legal action against Vance for comments on the internet assumed to be Vance’s. He also said Zimmer reached out to Mason during the mayoral campaign to have Mason squash her allies’ attacks as anonymous commenters on the web.
“If I have something to say, I will say it to your face,” Vance said. “Stop posting and stop reading this junk.”
Mello said after the meeting, “I do have a problem with the anonymity that exists in some of the online communities. I did bring up to Mr. Vance that he may have done something libelous.”
Mello also said he never threatened a lawsuit against Vance. – TJC