Dueling reforms taking form
Fulop, Healy propose legislation in response to corruption arrests
by Ricardo Kaulessar
Reporter Staff Writer
Aug 16, 2009 | 1398 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
REINTRODUCING REFORM – The City Council on Wednesday voted 7-0 to re-introduce a pay-to-play ordinance that would ban political contributions from developers who wish to do redevelopment within Jersey City from one year prior to entering into an agreement. This ordinance was originally introduced by City Councilman Steven Fulop (pictured, bottom left) in January 2007 but was voted down.
REINTRODUCING REFORM – The City Council on Wednesday voted 7-0 to re-introduce a pay-to-play ordinance that would ban political contributions from developers who wish to do redevelopment within Jersey City from one year prior to entering into an agreement. This ordinance was originally introduced by City Councilman Steven Fulop (pictured, bottom left) in January 2007 but was voted down.
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The operative word at Wednesday’s City Council meeting was reform.

The City Council voted to introduce, by a 7-0 vote, a redeveloper pay-to-play ordinance that would ban political contributions from developers who wish to do redevelopment within Jersey City for one year prior to entering into a redevelopment agreement.

This ordinance had been introduced by City Councilman Steven Fulop in January 2007 but was voted down by the City Council by a 7-2 vote. It was a measure originally written by non-reform group the Citizens’ Campaign and advocated by the local good government organization Civic JC.

Fulop re-introduced the ordinance in response to the July 23 arrests of 44 political and religious leaders in New Jersey and New York including several well-known Jersey City politicians such current state Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith, former Assemblyman Louis Manzo and Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini. The arrests of those Jersey City politicos were due to allegedly accepting cash from federal “cooperating witness” Solomon Dwek to help him develop a purported project on Garfield Avenue.

Fulop thanked the council for introducing the ordinance again, which will be up for a second reading and final vote at the next council meeting on Sept. 9 as council members want to study the ordinance further before agreeing to approve it.

The council also approved a resolution for the city to retain a law firm to perform a legal audit and analysis of the city’s development process. The resolution was recommended by Mayor Jerramiah Healy, who is currently under a cloud of suspicion for being mentioned in several of the criminal complaints as “Jersey City Public Official No. 4,” and also last week signed an Executive Order requiring all city directors and employees who participate in the development process to undergo mandatory ethics training.

The ethics training will take place within the next 30 days, and will be conducted by William Kearns, Esq., General Counsel to the New Jersey League of Municipalities.

Mayor Healy has not been charged with any crime.

Healy is also directing the city’s law department to undertake an analysis of various campaign contribution laws around the country and to engage in discussions with civic groups regarding new campaign contribution laws.

However, conspicuous in his absence from the council meeting was City Council President Mariano Vega, who told the local daily last week that he was still “not resigning” and had not appeared because he was meeting with his attorney on Wednesday.

Developing ethical government

Fulop said at Monday’s caucus that he wanted to see the redevelopment pay-to-play ordinance introduced at Wednesday’s meeting. He also was willing to see it tabled if the city can come up with a stronger ordinance than the one he was introducing.

City Councilwoman Viola Richardson on Wednesday voted for introduction but said she needed for the ordinance to be “clarified” in order to make it easier to understand and to address concerns that this ordinance will impact on an important funding source such as developers.

After Wednesday’s council meeting, Fulop issued an official statement expressing his pleasure in the ordinance being introduced.

“In the wake of the recent corruption arrests in Jersey City, my colleagues on the Council were forced to finally confront the issue of uncontrolled political influence by those looking to do business with the city,” Fulop said in a statement.
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The operative word at Wednesday’s City Council meeting was reform.
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What may have also helped the ordinance gain traction with the council was the backing of Councilman Bill Gaughan, who is the longest serving member of the council.

Gaughan, who served as the interim president of the council in the absence of both Vega and Peter Brennan (officially the President Pro Tem), said after Wednesday’s council meeting that he wants work done on the ordinance to see that it is not “too strong” and allows people to still raise money.

But he said he agreed to support the ordinance as the arrests were a “wake-up call.”

He said there was a meeting scheduled for Wednesday afternoon to discuss the ordinance.

Mayor wants reform too late

“In light of the events of July 23, 2009, we believe it is prudent to undertake a legal audit and analysis of our development process in order to verify that it is fully transparent, fair and efficient,” said Healy last week.

Mayor Healy’s comments last week refers to the audit resulting from the City Council approving the $55,000 contract to retain the law firm of McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, LLP, based in Morristown, with the firm's attorneys – former Seton Hall Law Dean Ronald J. Riccio, former Assistant US Attorney Walter Timpone, and Thomas Scrivo, who wrote an expert treatise entitled, “New Jersey Local Government Deskbook” – to review documents and relevant local legislation as well as interview city officials in private.

At the end of the analysis, expected within 90 days, the firm will provide the city with a written report documenting its findings and provide recommendations to enhance the process.

City Corporation Counsel Bill Matsikoudis said that “several law firms were looked at before the city settled on the law firm in question.” Matsikoudis said Riccio – his teacher during his freshman year at Seton Hall Law – Timpone and Scrivo bring “unassailable integrity and gravitas” to the audit process.

But Matsikoudis said none have any connections to Mayor Healy.

When asked if Healy’s recent reform initiatives come “too late” and should have been introduced long before the arrests, Matsikoudis ended the interview saying he had “commented enough.”

Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at rkaulessar@hudsonreporter.com.

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