Even then, council members will not likely get to hear the message, but will only hear more details from the city attorneys as to why the administration won’t release the recording.
In a 4-3-1 vote by the council last Wednesday voted against a resolution proposed by
Councilman Michael Yun that would allow the matter to be aired in public and the voicemail to be released. Earlier this month a Hudson County Superior Court ruling said the city must release the recording. The city is contesting the ruling.
Local activist group Civic JC as well as the Jersey City chapter of the NAACP have sought the release of the recording.
The voice message, inadvertently left on the voicemail of Business Administrator Robert Kakoleski in early 2014, allegedly suggests that two city employees with close political associations to Mayor Fulop may have attempted to influence the selection of an energy consultant in order to steer the contract to a particular vendor.
The voicemail’s existence came as result of depositions given by two high ranking city officials who were giving testimony in an unrelated suit filed against the city.
While Civic NJ and others have called for the release of the recording, city officials said because the voicemail is part of an ongoing lawsuit it cannot be released
Yun introduced the resolution at the Oct. 25 council meeting, demanding the release of any audio recording in connection with recent news reports about the senior administration officials and the energy consulting bid.
“These news reports cite sworn deposition testimony of Business Administrator Robert Kakoleski and his aide, Dominick Pandolfo, wherein they discuss the procurement of an energy consultant and the existence of a public record in the form of a voicemail left by then Chief of Staff Muhammad Akil and Deputy Directory Shawn Thomas on the business administrator’s phone,” Yun’s resolution states.
Yun, a frequent critic of Mayor Fulop seeking reelection in Ward D against a Fulop running mate, said he is seeking the release of the voicemail “because there were allegations about the efforts by Akil, Thomas and Director Anthony Cruz to (allegedly) influence Pandolfo, a procurement committee member… there are concerns of a criminal nature and any voice audio recording may either substantiate or ease concerns about public corruption the city’s procurement process. It is alleged that Mayor (Steven) Fulop was made aware of this incident and yet Akil, Thomas and Cruz remained in their positions and did not face an investigation or any discipline for these alleged actions,” Yun’s resolution said.
Part of a political circus?
The resolution was introduced at the last meeting before the municipal election, in which the recording has become a primary political issue.
Protestors bearing signs frequently interrupted the meeting proceedings chanting for the release of the voicemail, although ironically, with the item last on the agenda, the council chambers were largely void of protestors by the time the council actually voted to reject Yun’s proposal.
Arguing against the ordinance at the Oct. 23 caucus meeting, City Corporation Counsel Jeremy Farrell – whose department apparently has possession of the voicemail – said the recording may never be released if it actually shows wrongdoing and would or could later become part of another investigation.
While Fulop claimed to have reported the incident to authorities, many protestors claimed it was unclear as to whom he actually reported the matter.
The voicemail and the surrounding circumstances has become something of a political embarrassment for Fulop in his reelection bid. Campaign reports showed the company in question may have given Fulop a campaign contribution, a moot point since the city never awarded the contract.
Farrell and some of the council members aligned with Fulop in the campaign claim the call for the recording’s release and Yun's resolution are political stunts geared toward influencing the outcome of the election.
Fulop is being challenged by Bill Matsikoudis, former corporation counsel to the mayor that Fulop defeated in 2013, and several people associated with his campaign have become leading voices in the call for the recording’s release.
Farrell said civic groups have filed a public records information request, and while the voicemail in other circumstances might have subject to such a request, it is currently part of the ongoing lawsuit and his staff has determined it could not be released.
Civic JC has called for a state investigation
Barbara Camacho, acting president of Civic JC, released a letter sent to the state Office of the Attorney General requesting the Division of Criminal Justice Department and Financial Crimes Bureau to “commence a comprehensive investigation into the alleged offenses in the public procurement process in Jersey City as it relates to an RFP for an energy aggregation consultant.”
The letter goes on to say: “These alleged offenses perverted the public trust in a regulated process; it cannot be underscored enough that the alleged corruption completely undermined the procurement process and requires a comprehensive and immediate investigation.”
Hudson County Superior Court Presiding Judge Mary K.Costello has ordered the City of Jersey City to produce the voicemail.
“However, as of the date of this letter the City of Jersey City has not abided by Judge Costello’s order and the recording remains buried from the public,” the letter continued. “The City of Jersey City has also denied two independent OPRA requests. The first is now part of a lawsuit pending before the Hudson County Superior Court. The second was filed by Civic JC and remains dormant as of the date of the denial, though further legal action is anticipated.”
Protestors at the council meeting pressed the council to intervene and pass the resolution requiring the voicemail’s release to the public.
Josephine Paige called it the “bid rig tape,” and questioned why the voicemail isn’t being released.
“Is there something on the tape that would influence the election?” she asked, suggesting that Fulop is in a tough spot. “If he doesn’t release the tape, he’ll lose the election; if he does, he’ll still lose the election.”
Gloria Walton questioned why Fulop did not discipline the employees involved and why two of the three involved still have their jobs with the city.
Esther Wintner, who is an at-large council candidate on the Matsikoudis ticket, also demanded the release of the voicemail.
In a counter move to Yun’s resolution, Councilwoman Candace Osborne introduced an ordinance that would set up a closed session of the council one week after the election for the council to be advised on the legal issues involving the recording.
Councilman Chris Gadsden wanted to know if the council would then hear the voicemail in question.
Farrell said the session would only be one that allowed the council members to ask questions. The voicemail would not likely be aired.
Councilman Richard Boggiano said he wanted the matter settled, and voted to release the recording.
Osborne, who voted against releasing the voicemail, she did not want to release a recording before knowing what the facts were.
Councilman Jeremiah Robinson abstained on the release resolution, but said he did not like the idea of releasing information to the public that might lead to further litigation.
Councilman President Rolando Lavarro said “Politics is in play here,” and that he did not like the timing of the requests for the voicemail. He said the recording is part of litigation and that he has a responsibility to “protect the taxpayers in Jersey City rather than expose the city to risk of additional litigation.”
Councilwoman Joyce Watterman, who is running with Fulop in the municipal election, however, voted to release the recording.
“Why can’t we release it?” she said. The judge said we should do this. I think it is the right thing to do.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.