A vote on whether to appoint James Doyle to a vacant seat on the Hoboken City Council was postponed Wednesday due to four council members’ last-minute motion to appeal. The City Council has seen a vacant seat for weeks. This is not the first curve ball that has been thrown in trying to fill the vacancy. Doyle was voted onto the council in October by four council members allied with Mayor Dawn Zimmer, but legal action from the other four members resulted in his removal.
Multiple residents voiced their concerns at Wednesday night’s meeting, criticizing the anti-Zimmer council members’ motion to appeal, as well as their absences during prior meetings.
One resident, Phil Cohen, riled up Councilman Michael Russo by implying that Russo purposely stayed home during one vote on Doyle as a political tactic. Russo was offended and fired back that he was home with his sick daughter.
“They need $20,000 for 10 days worth of work when there is nothing going on?” – Ravi Bhalla
The council also passed a resolution (which had failed earlier this month) for free metered parking from Dec. 20, 2012 through Jan. 2, 2013.
The council concluded the meeting by agreeing to discuss security in schools after the recent Connecticut school shooting.
The vote that couldn’t be
Prior to a mid-September resignation by Councilwoman-At-Large Carol Marsh, the council was split 5-4, with the majority allied with Mayor Zimmer. After Marsh resigned, the council was left with four members allied with Mayor Dawn Zimmer and four members opposed.
The governing process to fill the vacant seat called for a majority vote and allowed for Mayor Zimmer to cast a tie-breaking fifth vote if needed. A vote on Oct. 3 appointed James Doyle to the ninth seat, with a simple majority win of 4-2-1. There were four “yes” votes, two “no” votes, and one abstention by Councilman Michael Russo. Councilwoman Beth Mason, a Zimmer opponent, was absent.
A decidedly illegal fifth vote was cast by Zimmer at the time. However, her vote was not counted by the city clerk.
Mason and Russo, alongside council members Theresa Castellano and Tim Occhipinti, filed a lawsuit to have Jim Doyle removed. A follow-up vote was later taken at another council meeting, but Mason abstained and Russo was absent. Hudson County Assignment Judge Peter Bariso ruled that the appointment of Doyle was illegal, which removed him from the seat. But the judge also recently ordered that all council members who participated should re-vote.
Before the eight could vote at Wednesday’s meeting, Mason, Occhipinti, Russo and Castellano filed a motion to appeal, which postponed the resolution due to litigation.
A hearing had been scheduled for Jan. 2 to clarify the intended vote.
Residents Phil Cohen and Roman Brice, who support the current administration, both spoke out about the Doyle voting process.
“So you’ll get a delay for little while,” said Brice. “Until January second, so merry Christmas to you.”
Phil Cohen said that Mason and Russo have “stayed away” during the past two votes.
Russo told Cohen that he hoped Cohen never had to deal with a sick child at home. Russo also said that the city attorney was aware of why he was absent.
“What is the cost to the city of Hoboken for this legal action by the council minority?” Brice later asked.
Late audit, and legal fees
The council got very animated when it came down to not one but two corrective action plans that they were asked accept via resolution: a plan for a 2011 audit and one for the 2010 audit.
The council was actually on the same side, wondering why they were first seeing the resolution for 2010.
Auditor Steven Wilcox and Business Administrator Quentin Wiest tried to explain to the council where the ball was dropped.
“While preparing the 2011 corrective action plan, there was a discovery of a previous action plan that was never put forth,” said Wiest.
Wiest had come in mid-year that year and was playing catch up. He admitted there was no formal exit conference of his predecessor.
“There was a transition period, you had a BA [business administrator] that left, you had someone coming in,” said Wilcox.
“I believe it was lost in the abyss from administration to administration,” said Wiest.
This raised questions from the council on the contract of the auditor and how long he has been there. Corporation counsel Mellissa Longo explained that Wilcox was a “hold-over,” which means he still does work for the city but the contract is up.
Ultimately, the resolutions for the audits were passed.
Fees for lawyers
Legal fees continued to aggravate the council. A resolution seeking to amend a contract with Chasen Leyner & Lamparello PC, not to exceed $20,000 for the month of December, upset Councilman Ravi Bhalla in particular. Bhalla is an attorney himself.
“They need $20,000 for 10 days worth of work when there is nothing going on?” asked Bhalla. “Twenty thousand is way too high.”
The resolution was then amended to allow for only $5,000 in excess for the month of December.
Russo told Bhalla he was “proud” of him.
Mason also voiced her concerns that legal cases should be explained in closed session so that council members are aware of their status.
Corporation Counsel Longo felt that she had made the statuses of current cases clear. Both Mason and Longo then accused the other of speaking disrespectfully to one another.
Hop to it
A new resolution issuing special emergency notes in the amount of $2,650,000 for Hurricane Sandy recovery had allotted $100,000 for “Hop” busses around town. This upset members of council who felt they have heard lower prices in the past for these busses.
Councilman Occhipinti said he remembered $40,000, and Councilwoman Jen Giattino said she recalled $80,000.
“The fleet has always been hand-me-down busses, or have been gifted to the city,” said Wiest. “The city has never actually bought the busses [before].”
The resolution was amended to remove the line item for $100,000.
Multiple members of council stressed the need to heighten security in Hoboken schools in the wake of the recent Connecticut school shooting. Russo suggested more policing in the schools while Bhalla expressed concern over how easy it is to gain entry. The council agreed to take action on making the school district safer.
A repeat resolution was discussed which was sponsored by Councilwoman Theresa Castellano weeks ago trying to enable meter-less parking in the weeks before Christmas. Castellano’s council faction thought that the 15-plus-year tradition helps businesses gain foot traffic, but the other group said it might hurt businesses.
The resolution had failed in recent weeks, without a simple majority vote. Castellano tried again, this time just for the one week surrounding the holiday. Perhaps in the spirit of Christmas, both Councilman Bhalla and Council President Peter Cunningham changed their previous votes to support the resolution and it passed.
The meters will be free from 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 20, 2012 through 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 2, 2013.
Amanda Palasciano may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.