What appeared to be a bland agenda for Wednesday night’s City Council meeting turned out to be anything but. Councilwoman-At-Large Carol Marsh gave a surprise announcement at the close of the meeting that she was resigning from the City Council. Marsh read a tearful resignation letter to the public and to members of the council, which elicited tears from colleague Jennifer Giattino.
Marsh said in her letter that her personal circumstances had changed and she could no longer fulfill her obligation to the City Council. “It is with deep regret and warm regards to Mayor Zimmer, my council colleagues, and the city of Hoboken that I tender my resignation from City Council,” Marsh said.
The resignation is effective as of Oct. 3.
A reval traditionally takes 18 months to complete.
Who will replace Marsh?
After Councilwoman Marsh resigned Wednesday, onlookers speculated about who will replace her on the nine-member council. Marsh is among the five-member council majority that supports Mayor Dawn Zimmer.
The appointment process of a new council member is governed by the Municipal Vacancy Law. The law allows the council to appoint a replacement. If there is a 4-4 tie, the mayor can make the final decision.
City spokesman Juan Melli said on Thursday that he hadn’t heard who is being considered for the position. The vote may take place as early as the next meeting on Oct. 3.
I’m sorry, so sorry
Debates among the council members are not unusual, but what was unusual Wednesday night was that two council people apologized.
Despite the fact that Council President Peter Cunningham opened the meeting by requesting members of council be respectful toward one another, Cunningham called Councilman Tim Occhipinti “a joke” during a heated dispute at the meeting. The exchange occurred as part of a long discussion of whether the council had to vote on a resolution related to Hoboken Housing Authority initiatives that night, or whether they could wait.
Councilwoman Theresa Castellano pointed out to Cunningham that he was the first to throw stones and suggested that Cunningham and Occhipinti apologize to one another.
Cunningham said he was sorry to have called Occhipinti a “joke” and Occhipinti apologized back, saying, “I don’t remember what I said, but I’m sorry.”
The matter was related to a plan to rehabilitate the federally funded Hoboken Housing Authority projects. Executive Director Carmelo Garcia believed it was important for the city to vote on a certain matter as a technicality, but some council members were unsure of the legalities.
Ultimately, the council voted 5-3 that they would deem the issue “emergent” and then voted 7-1 to pass the resolution. Cunningham was the person who voted no, then yes, clarifying that he still did not find the matter emergent.
Reval still on the way
One of the long debates on Wednesday had to do with an impending “reval” or reassessment of all properties in town so they can be taxed according to their current market value. The Hudson County Board of Taxation suggests that towns conduct revals every five years, but Hoboken has postponed its evaluation for more than 20.
Revals are politically unpopular because people who are paying taxes based on what their homes were worth 20 years ago will suddenly have to pay much more. However, owners of newer homes may see tax savings, because property values have declined in the last few years.
The process traditionally takes eighteen months to complete (potentially less for Hoboken due to the unique amount of similar condominiums). While officials said they wanted to have the process completed in time to affect the 2014 tax year, several council members said they thought it will take longer.
Occhipinti complained that the council wanted to use emergency appropriations to fund the reval, rather than the city’s “multi-million dollar surplus.”
“The administration knew this was coming,” said Occhipinti. “Too many times [they] don’t build it into the budget, then turn to credit cards and bonds at the last minute.”
Councilman David Mello also felt the issue was addressed late in the game. Mello said at the meeting, “I’m not happy with how long this took. Too many people had to use attorneys to reappraise properties.”
The measure to fund the reval was passed 7 to 1, with Occhipinti being the only “no” vote (Councilman Michael Russo was absent).
Who pays, who stays, who delays
At the meeting, Hoboken resident Perry Belfiore passionately spoke about a postponed ordinance regarding the bond for the 9/11 memorial. Belfiore was upset that the city of Hoboken had not yet erected a permanent memorial to the local victims.
“I had to go to a memorial in a town in the middle of New Jersey who lost three people,” said Belfiore. “This town lost more than 50 people. What is the inertia? Paint dries quicker. People have stopped trying to come here and speak out. They lost interest. I can’t believe this is how Hoboken has treated their dead.”
Other conflicts at the meeting included the paving of Washington Street (which raised pedestrian safety concerns) and a rumor that departing Parking and Transportation Director Ian Sacs will be staying on as a consultant.
Several members of the council took issue with the idea of Sacs remaining a paid consultant with paid vacation during the transition with his replacement.
The city’s attorney said Wednesday, “No formal arrangement has been made [for Sacs] at this time.”
Councilwoman Beth Mason said, “[The city] is piling on the staff … yet you’re asking for money for all of these things. It doesn’t look good.”
Melli confirmed on Friday that Sacs will stay on as a consultant for the time being. He said, “Director Sacs has specific engineering expertise, especially involving Observer Highway. People have years of institutional knowledge that need to be passed on to the new person.”
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Taking the bull by the horns
A unique dispute arose at the City Council meeting Wednesday: Can Hoboken license a mechanical bull ride?
The new owners of 400 Adams (formerly the Gaslight restaurant) sought the approval of a license for a mechanical bull. This brought on concerns of noise, crowding, and most of all public safety.
Director of Public Safety Jon Tooke wrote a letter to the city outlining the various dangers that could stem from adding a mechanical bull ride to a bar in town. Richard Simon, counsel for the new owners of the venue at 400 Adams, cited five bars in Manhattan and a bar in Watchung that have all profited from the addition of the amusement ride.
Councilwoman Theresa Castellano voted against the license based on the recommendation from Tooke. Councilwoman Beth Mason was on the fence about the ride, but ultimately concluded that if the license was only for a year, it could be revisited or revoked for just cause at the end of the lease. The final vote was 7-1 for the bull ride.