Barbara Camacho, a member of Civic JC, a group frequently critical of Mayor Steven Fulop, demanded the release of the tape to the public during the public portion of the meeting. She said the release of the tape would increase public confidence in the local government.
Yun, the Ward D representative, is also a frequent Fulop critic. Although his resolution is not likely to get passed by the council, where Fulop supporters outnumber opponents 6 to 3, the resolution will be debated on city-wide TV a few days prior to the municipal election.
The message in question was left in the voice mailbox of Business Administrator Robert Kakoleski in early 2014. It allegedly suggests that two city employees with close political associations to Mayor Fulop may have attempted to influence the selection of an energy consultant in order to steer the contract to a particular vendor.
The tape’s existence came to light as result of depositions given by two high ranking city officials who were giving testimony in an unrelated suit filed against the city.
“These are allegations, and we should not comment.” – Councilman Jermaine Robinson
Depositions given last month by Dominick Pandolfo, an employee of Jersey City, and Kakoleski in a lawsuit unrelated to the contract said that the voicemail left on Kakoleski’s phone by the mayor’s then chief of staff Muhummad Akil accidentally captured, in the background, the aides’ discussion.
The recording was apparently made in February, 2014 after Akil had left a message for Kakoleski then failed to hang up his telephone.
Pandolfo is a supervising administrative analyst who works in the business administrator’s office on various projects. He was a member of a committee set up to select an energy consultant. He also testified in the depositions that he had been approached twice by city hall officials about the contract.
Believing the bidding process had been compromised, Kakoleski disbanded the committee in 2014, and canceled the bid requested. New bids were never reissued.
In an official release from Mayor Fulop’s office, city spokesperson Jennifer Morrill said the administration took the alleged attempts to influence the bidding seriously, and, echoing a tweet from Mayor Fulop, said the bid was canceled and the matter reported to authorities.
But critics such as Civic JC have asked for more details, such as to whom the matter was reported, and what was the outcome?
“The scheme described is a far-reaching betrayal of the public trust. Senior level employees violating procurement rules is precisely the kind of unsupervised impropriety that breeds corruption,” Camacho said. “Putting a thumb on the scale for one bidder, while ignoring the value of another, has a chilling effect on future bidders. It also demoralizes the conscientious career civil service employees who just want to do the right thing.”
Morrill claimed that the “unsubstantiated” depositions were leaked to media and Fulop opposition by Akil six weeks prior to the election. In early 2015, Akil had been pressured to leave his post when someone leaked radical statements he made while still in college to the media. This apparently stemmed from a behind the scenes conflict among other city employees at the time and led to a shakeup of Fulop’s inner circle.
Although Camacho asked for comments from those council members closely associated with Fulop, each refused.
“I’m new to this,” said Councilmember Osborne. “But this is a legal concern.”
Council President Rolando Lavarro called this a legal matter, and that he would not comment at this time.
Councilman Jermaine Robinson said, “These are allegations, and we should not comment.”
Is this a matter of politics?
Civic JC, a community activist group with ties to Fulop’s challenger for re-election, former Jersey City Corporation Counsel Bill Matsikoudis, previously called for Fulop to release the tape.
The group’s director, Esther Wintner, is a candidate for council on the Matsikoudis slate.
Yun, along with Councilmembers Richard Boggiano and Chris Gadsden, who support the resolution, are all running for reelection against Fulop-supported candidates.
“Government works best when its activities are well-known to the public it serves,” Camacho said. “The public has an interest in hearing what was sufficiently improper to cancel an RFP permanently but not odious enough to impose discipline. Without disclosure of the tape, how can the public be confident that the actions described under oath are not representative of a broader lack of integrity in the bidding process? Civic JC requests that the Jersey City Council increase public confidence in the integrity of public bidding by adopting a resolution that urges Mayor Fulop to ensure the transparency and accountability he promised years ago by releasing the tape now.”
But the issue goes beyond Fulop opposition. Four of the five candidates running in Ward E – the most progressive ward in the city where Fulop served 8 years as councilman – have also called for the release of the tape.
“I, along with Councilmen Gadsden and Boggiano, will co-sponsor the legislation for next council meeting,” Yun said, likely resulting in a political sideshow at the last public council meeting prior to the Nov. 7 election.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.