The City Council majority, plus Councilwoman Beth Mason, voted to appoint Councilman David Mello to the Hoboken Housing Authority during its meeting Wednesday, following a debate over the validity of the appointment process. Mello will serve until May 2017.
Mello takes over for Councilman Michael Russo, a member of the council minority and whose five-year term ended on Thursday. Russo was absent from the meeting due to family obligations.
Mello’s name was put on a resolution sponsored by Council President Ravi Bhalla before the meeting. Mello, one of four candidates, voted for himself and received votes from Peter Cunningham, Carol Marsh, and Jen Giattino, as well as Councilwoman Mason, who ordinarily does not side with the five member majority.
Council members Tim Occhipinti and Theresa Castellano voted no.
‘You’re very far from the transparent government you profess to be.’ – Councilwoman Theresa Castellano
“I feel that as a homeowner, business owner, and reformer, [that] I’ve been slighted,” said Branco. “The [four] people that applied for this position should be considered. That’s not what happened. Are we deliberately misleading the public? Was my application ever actually reviewed?”
Resident Patricia Waiters and the minority members of the council, Occhipinti and Castellano echoed Branco’s sentiments.
“It’s a smack in the face,” said Waiters. “The attitude is, ‘We’ve got the majority, call the vote.’”
Castellano decided to call for an amendment to the resolution appointing Branco to the HHA. The amendment failed, receiving three votes from the present members of the council minority Occhipinti, Mason, and Castellano.
Bhalla agreed that the application process, which calls for candidates to answer a series of questions, could use improvements.
“We have a process, it’s imperfect, and I acknowledge that there is room for improvement,” said Bhalla.
Castellano and Occhipinti said that the appointment process was underhanded.
“This equates to basically a backroom deal,” said Occhipinti. “There’s too much smoke in the room right now, and I’ve got to clarify it up a little bit for everyone. It’s really disappointing that it’s come to this.”
“I didn’t see any [resumes],” said Castellano. “You’re very far from the transparent government you profess to be.”
Best man for the job?
Members of the council majority said they spoke to various candidates about their qualifications. They also acknowledged that both Mello and Branco were great applicants, but added that Mello was the best choice for the job.
Councilman Peter Cunningham said that he spoke to candidates, residents, and several of his constituents.
“While I believe Joe Branco would be a good Housing Authority commissioner, Dave Mello will be a better [commissioner],” said Cunningham.
Occhipinti said he was apprehensive about appointing Mello to the HHA since Mello also serves as chairman of both the council’s Community Development and Parking and Transportation Committees.
Mello said that he would work hard to elevate the reputation of the Housing Authority.
“My [intent is] to make this the best housing authority that exists in northern New Jersey, if not the entire country,” said Mello, adding that during his day job as a public school teacher, he works with students from families that would typically qualify for HHA housing.
Other members of the council also expressed their confidence in Mello.
“I’m going to support the person who I feel is the best to serve the city in this position and for what is in the city’s best interest,” said Bhalla. “I’m going to support my colleague and my friend, Councilman David Mello.”
Russo said after the meeting that he would have supported Branco.
“He’s very much involved in the community,” said Russo, adding that his support has nothing to do with “politics.”
“Joe Branco was not a supporter of me in this last election,” continued Russo. “I just think that he’s very involved [and] he does a lot for the city.”
Russo said that he hopes the Mello appointment is not for “political reasons.”
“The Housing Authority board was never a political board,” said Russo. “It was very separate and apart from the political arena in Hoboken. It was very cordial and very matter-of-fact.”
“Hopefully they concentrate on the residents of the Housing Authority,” continued Russo. “It was a pleasure to serve on that board and to serve the residents of the Housing Authority, and I’m still here for each and every one of them.”
A resolution was adopted in a 5-3 vote appointing Quentin Wiest as Business Administrator at a $150,000 salary. Wiest will replace administrator Arch Liston, who relocated to South Jersey for family reasons in January.
Stephen Marks will also be appointed as assistant business administrator, at a salary of $125,000.
In a memo to the council, Zimmer explained the need for an assistant business administrator, a new position which has faced criticism from some residents.
“Our experience over the last several years has demonstrated that the enormous administrative role requires a team approach,” said Zimmer. “Stephen Marks, as the former director of planning for the county, brings tremendous experience that will help with important projects.”
Castellano said that she thought that Wiest’s salary, which is the same as Liston’s, was excessive.
“We do need a business administrator, but I have a problem with the $150,000,” she said. “I had a problem with Arch Liston getting $150,000 too.” Castellano did say that she believed Wiest’s resume was “impeccable.”
“In my estimation it’s a very promising opportunity for the city to take Mr. Wiest as administrator,” said Bhalla, “and I hope that this resolution passes this evening.”
Mayor Zimmer said before the meeting that she was satisfied with the decision to add Wiest and Marks.
“Quentin [Wiest] and Stephen Marks are going to be a fantastic addition to the city of Hoboken,” said Zimmer.
“I look forward to this opportunity,” said Wiest, during the meeting. “Hoboken is a community with a great energy.”
The council unanimously adopted a resolution accepting the Parade Committee’s proposed date for the Memorial Day Parade as Wednesday, May 23 at 6:30 p.m.
The parade will travel north on Washington Street to Eleventh Street. No parking will be allowed during the parade on both sides of Washington Street from Observer Highway to First Street, as well as Washington Street from 10th Street to 11th Street.
An ordinance was adopted in a 5-3 vote to clarify the language for property owners who are seeking to place signs.
Zoning Officer Ann Holtzman said that the ordinance will make the sign requirements less restrictive than the current regulation. The full language of the adopted ordinance can be viewed on the city website at ww.hobokennj.org.
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.