Claiming political enemies were behind a recent “Shame on You” report on Fox5 News that highlighted alleged abuses of city-owned vehicles, Union City Mayor and State Sen. Brian Stack last week also pointed a finger at his ex-wife and asked his city’s Law Department to seek reimbursement for any gasoline that was paid for by the city and used for her private purposes.
The Fox5 segment focused on Katia Stack, the director of the Union City Day Care Center, a private non-profit that rents space in a city-owned building for free. According to the Fox5 report, a private detective tailed Katia Stack over a period of months, highlighting alleged abuses that include using a city-owned vehicle for her day care duties and for personal use when the lease of her own car expired.
The segment said she filled the car with free gas at the city’s Department of Public Works garage, even though she is not a city employee. In the segment, Brian Stack said that he was careful of how city cars are used, and said he and his commissioners set an example by not using city vehicles. However, the segment showed Stack having a city employee drive him around on city business.
“We have communicated with the day care center that the city must be reimbursed for any gasoline used for private use.” – Mark Albiez
The 1999 Infinity truck used by Katia Stack was not purchased by the city, Albiez said, but was impounded as result of a drug raid by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency.
Proceeds from drug sales – including confiscated cash, vehicles, computers and other items – can be distributed back to the municipality that participated in an investigation leading to an arrest and conviction, for use in helping bolstering the town’s anti-drug abuse efforts.
After the TV report aired, Stack said the city wants to get reimbursement for any city-provided gas used by Katia Stack.
“Mayor Stack has a reputation for being fully committed to the city,” Albiez said. “He is available all hours of the day to provide for the needs of residents. We have communicated with the day care center that the city must be reimbursed for any gasoline used for private use.”
Katia Stack did not respond to requests for comment last week. But some sources close to her said the situation was blown out of proportion.
Union City officials maintain that they were unaware of alleged abuses of the vehicle, since the day care center is entitled to use the vehicles to serve its population. Those uses could include shopping for groceries and other such activities.
In a release to the press, Mayor Stack demanded that his ex-wife reimburse the city for gasoline used for private purposes. He also had harsh words for her, saying he was “utterly disgusted” by her actions.
He said that the two do not speak, and “As a result of the personal nature of this matter, please imagine how upset I am that my past continues to haunt me.”
He added, “I have always worked to save money for the taxpayers. That is why I was so shocked and appalled when I learned that city gas was being used in a vehicle that Katia was using. …Also, it is widely acknowledged that my political opposition pitched falsehoods about this story in order to hurt and embarrass me.”
Stack used vehicle and driver, report said.
For a mayor to be driven by a city employee is a common occurrence in Hudson County where city officials often have a tight schedule of meetings in places where parking is limited.
“A number of people pick up the mayor and drive him around,” Albiez said. “The mayor carries a police radio and a radio for the DPW. When he is in a city vehicle, he is doing city business. He is often checking out garbage routes to call in about where things have not been picked up. If a street needs sweeping, he calls that in, too. As director of public safety, he carries a police radio and is involved in those situations, too.”
Mayor Stack reportedly spent a significant amount of time riding around in municipal vehicles during the recent batch of snowstorms, apparently surveying progress on street clearing and other problems.
In his report on the situation, Diaz claimed that once he started asking more questions, police began confronting his producer, and Stack stopped talking to him.
Last week, a source said that it isn’t true that Stack and his ex-wife are enemies.
“They are very close,” the official said, asking not to have his name used. “She worked on last campaign for Mayor Stack.”
Katia Stack is described as politically savvy. She served as a finance officer in Hoboken City Hall but left in 2002 to run the Union City Day Care. She has also been involved in political campaigns in Hoboken, including managing the campaign for mayoral candidate Kim Glatt in 2009.
Since the Fox5 report, the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office said it will follow upon the matter of the car being used by the day care facility, although Prosecutor Edward DeFazio said he did not believe laws were intentionally violated.
“However, there are questions whether the vehicle was appropriately in the possession of the day care center,” he said. “The vehicle no longer is in the possession of the day care center. We agree that it’s not appropriate for a forfeited vehicle to be used in that manner. That’s just an administrative situation.”
Is there a problem throughout Hudson County
This comes at a time when allegations were recently made against workers in Hudson County for misuse of the county garage for repair of private vehicles. While a recent investigation showed that a supervisor at the county garage had not broken county policy, workers at the county facility claimed that other abuses have taken place and have gone largely unreported.
“This stuff is still going on,” said Bayonne resident Pat Desmond, who has been complaining about the alleged misuse of public facilities for several years. “People are getting free gas, getting maintenance and use county trucks they shouldn’t be.”
Hudson County Freeholder Bill O’Dea has pushed for “a zero tolerance” policy for misuse of county vehicles, although he said that if a situation is fully reported using the proper paperwork, there might be times when there can be exceptions.
“We need to know that something is going on,” he said. “It is when nobody tells us anything that there is a problem.”
While many county municipalities allow some public officials to use city employers as drivers, nearly all towns have policies against the private use of public facilities.
Who let the dogs out?
This is not the first time that Stack has been on the receiving end of an accusation regarding his ex-wife. In 2007, the state Attorney General’s office subpoenaed records related to $200,000 in state funding awarded to the day care facility by the state legislature. The facility gets some private funding and some public funding. At the time, then-U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie also looked at the day care funding as part of a probe into nearly $1 billion in “Christmas tree” items approved by the state legislature. The latter investigation was an attempt to make sure that state legislators didn’t shift grants to organizations benefiting them or their families.
The Stacks were later vindicated by a state ethics panel that dismissed the complaint about the day care funding.
Behind the scenes, several sources claim the recent Fox5 report may have been generated through political operatives seeking to undermine the powerful Hudson County state senator, and that some prominent Democrats may have used this an opportunity to retaliate against Stack, who won re-election as mayor last year.
A suit filed against the Hudson County Democratic Organization for alleged campaign abuses was recently ruled on Superior Court, adding to the belief that Diaz had been used as a weapon in a local political dispute. Some longtime political observers claim the HCDO may have been sending a message to Stack prior to the redistricting of state legislative districts that could cause him to face a political challenge for his seat this June.
Some in the Stack camp suspect Bogota Republican Steven Lonegan as the possible source for the Fox5 report. Lonegan and the Stack family had tangled before when Lonegan filed ethics complaints against Stack and others over the receipt of state grants, including the grant to the day care center for the construction of a playground.
Lonegan and some political consultants connected to him, have denied being responsible for the Diaz report.
Joseph Blaettler, a former deputy police chief, was shown in the segment complaining about Stack.
This is the second time that reporter Arnold Diaz had targeted a prominent Hudson County public official. In early 2008, Diaz went after Hudson County Registrar and Jersey City Councilwoman Willie Flood for hiring her son as her council aide and as a data processing systems programmer in the register’s office.
How did Katia get the job?
When Katia Stack left Hoboken City Hall to take the day care job in 2002, officials around her said that she had not been hired because of her husband.
Stack resigned from his duties as a member of the day care’s Board of Directors just before the board voted to hire her. His letter of resignation was hand-delivered by Katia, who was then still married to him.
“I wanted to avoid the appearance of conflict,” said Stack later. “It wouldn't be right for me to sit on the board with my wife as the director.”
He said she was not awarded the position because of their relationship. “Kathy has started on the bottom in life,” said Stack. “She has earned her right to pursue the career of her choice.”
He also said that because he was mayor, he may have held his wife back in many ways.
“I think my wife will do a tremendous job,” said Stack at the time. “She has always done an excellent job, no matter what her job was.”