The city’s most controversial legal fights, including one opposing the Monarch at Shipyard development, could come to an abrupt halt because the City Council minority members on Wednesday declined to pass approximately $500,000 in emergency budget appropriations to pay city bills.
Other implications of the vote could include problems paying firefighters, according to a city attorney.
Before the city passes its annual budget, the bills can be paid through temporary appropriations. But unforeseen events, such as retroactive pay or matters of litigation, need to be paid by way of emergency budget appropriations which require approval by a supermajority, or six votes.
Members of the council minority said they wouldn’t pass emergency appropriations, a move to speed up the annual budget process.
Mayor Dawn Zimmer has only five allies on the council. At Wednesday night’s meeting, the mayor’s five allies voted yes, and her four opponents voted no.
“This is an emergency appropriation that was dropped on us,” said Councilman Tim Occhipinti, who voted no because he wanted more time to review the documents. “We’re not talking about peanuts here; we’re talking about a half a million dollars.”
As part of the appropriations, the administration was proposing that a contract be awarded to Maraziti, Falcon, and Healy to help the city appeal state approvals for the proposed uptown Monarch at Shipyard development. Approvals came last year from the state Department of Environmental Protection, but were unanimously opposed by the council.
Second Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason, who has been a vocal opponent of the project, still voted against the appropriations.
“We requested [earlier this year] options on [how to fight] the Monarch,” Mason said. “But now we’re just seeing that here’s one answer.”
Mason said she was uncomfortable with the appropriations being dropped on the council the day before the meeting.
“If this does not get approved, the Monarch litigation does not happen,” city attorney Mark Tabakin said before the vote. “We can’t retain the lawyer to represent us in the [first] hearing.”
After a long discussion that stretched for approximately one hour, Councilwoman Jen Giattino received applause from those in attendance for a comment she made right before the 5-4 vote.
“It bothers me that people are comfortable sitting up here wasting the public’s time when they know how they’re going to vote in the first place,” Giattino said.
Because the vote failed, other resolutions on the agenda to authorize legal contracts were pulled since no money was allocated for them.
Mayor Zimmer said Wednesday afternoon that a draft of the 2012 budget is being finalized for presentation to the council.
Council pulls vote on 11 a.m. bar opening for Lepre-con
Although the St. Patrick’s Day parade has been canceled, many partygoers are expected to descend upon Hoboken anyway on the first Saturday in March.
The mayor asked for the council’s support for a resolution that included asking bars not to open until 11 a.m. on March 3, the date of the alternative “Lepre-con” event being organized on Facebook. Bars are usually allowed to open at 6 a.m.
However, the resolution would be non-binding, which ultimately caused the council to pull the item from the agenda following some discussion. In order for the rule to be binding, the City Council would have to amend the municipal code by ordinance, which requires successful votes at two council meetings.
Eugene Flinn, a Hoboken restaurant owner and member of the Hoboken Hospitality Association, a bar and restaurant owners’ group, said he requested a sit-down with the mayor, but that other officials were sent instead. He spoke out against the resolution, hoping for more dialogue with the administration.
Although some bar owners oppose the move to open at 11 a.m., at least one resident thinks 11 a.m. is still too early to open a bar.
“If there’s no alcohol sold until 5 p.m. that would really curtail the problem,” said Elizabeth Adams, a resident, before the council. “That’s more than enough time to have partying, get your drink on, get your groove on, whatever. Alcoholics start drinking at 11 a.m.”
Another resident, Hany Ahmed, said the city shouldn’t blame the bars, but should look into increased enforcement of house parties.
Resident and former council candidate Franz Paetzold agreed.
“The problem isn’t so much the bars,” Paetzold said to the council. “They actually host a well-controlled environment.”
But Public Safety Director Jon Tooke said at the meeting that the move is being proposed because the departments are stretched too thin to combat the citywide party, so they are trying make the morning easier on police and firefighters.
Mason said that the parade was never the issue, as evidenced by the fact that the council was having the discussions about gearing up for the party day even though the parade has been cancelled. The parade was canceled by its organizing committee because the mayor said she would only approve a Wednesday parade this year, not a Saturday parade.
Tooke said the 11 a.m. measure is “a marginal piece to the big puzzle” in helping enforcement that day.
Councilman David Mello, who usually sides with the mayor, supported pulling the item from the agenda.
“I saw much more disorderly people in house party situations than I ever saw in bars,” Mello said, reflecting on his time in college. “We can close every liquor store in town but we’re not drying up the state of New Jersey or New York for that matter…I don’t think this is the proper remedy. We need to look into the house parties.”
The item was unanimously pulled from the agenda.
Despite the lack of a parade, police officers will still have a large presence on March 3, enforcing a zero tolerance policy that includes $2,000 fines for drunk and disorderly behavior.
Zimmer said on Wednesday afternoon that city workers will be “all hands on deck” for March 3, and she doesn’t know what to expect.
“If there’s no alcohol sold until 5 p.m. that would really curtail the problem.” – Elizabeth Adams, resident
Earlier this month, council members Peter Cunningham and Carol Marsh, both allies of the mayor, slipped out of City Hall before a meeting began when they realized they would not be in the majority. Their other three council allies were already absent. With only four members in attendance, there was no quorum, canceling the meeting.
Although it was three weeks ago, the incident was discussed at length on Wednesday night.
Councilman Michael Russo asked the city attorney to determine the cost of the special meeting that was held the week after the cancellation, and to prepare a resolution that would ask for Marsh and Cunningham to reimburse the city for the cost.
Cunningham said at the meeting that he left because he was worried that the council minority would take the opportunity to fill expiring zoning board seats, and added he didn’t know what else they would do. Marsh, in an interview with the Reporter, had said the same thing. Also, at that meeting, the council minority tacked on a last-minute resolution to have school board elections be decided by referendum and not by the school board.
“I do not trust these people and I will never trust you,” Cunningham said to Russo. “It’s unfortunate, but I will never trust you.”
“But when you need those votes, you call me,” Russo shot back.
“That’s an outright lie,” Cunningham said.
“You took your oath of office and threw it right out the window,” Russo later said to Cunningham.
• The council voted by a 5-4 margin against putting a question on the ballot asking the voters whether they think Board of Education elections should be moved to the fall general election. However, the night before the council meeting, the Board of Education already moved the elections to November, rendering enforcement of the resolution moot.
• The council introduced new food truck regulations, and a public hearing will be held on the ordinance at the next meeting. The revised ordinance would allow food trucks to now park for eight hours at a parking meter, while charging different fees for food truck owners to operate in the city with either a four or seven day per week pass.
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