Hoboken may return to holding mayor and council runoff elections starting in 2019, if voters agree to do so during a possible November 2018 referendum vote. The outcome would affect the six ward council races in 2019.
Until 2012, if several candidates ran in a mayor or council election in Hoboken, and no one got more than 50 percent, the top two vote-getters would compete in a final runoff. Ultimately, Mayor Dawn Zimmer and her supporters said the system was too costly and led to too much political wrangling, and supported a public referendum that did away with runoffs.
But after this year’s six-way mayoral election, in which Mayor-Elect Ravi Bhalla won with 32.7 percent of the vote, the majority of the City Council (who happened to back the other candidates) voted 7-2 on Wednesday to hold a new referendum next November.
However, late on Friday, Mayor Zimmer vetoed the measure. DeFusco said on Twitter that he’d reintroduce it in 2018.
The ordinance was sponsored by Councilmen Michael DeFusco (who lost to Bhalla by fewer than 500 votes) and Councilman Ruben Ramos.
November’s mayoral election drew 41.2 percent of registered voters.
The “no” votes on the ordinance for the referendum were Bhalla (still a councilman until he becomes mayor on Jan. 1, 2018) and Councilman Jim Doyle, who won re-election on Bhalla’s ticket.
Fisher and Bhalla butt heads
Also at the meeting, a resolution was pulled that would establish a 2017 municipal audit committee comprised of residents and administration members, meant to provide advice to city officials regarding the 2017 annual audited financial statement. The measure was tabled after the council members and city attorney Brian Aloia debated whether it was legal.
Councilwomen Tiffanie Fisher and Jen Giattino sponsored the resolution. Fisher said one impetus was that in just the last few months, the council found out of an outstanding balance with Suez Water for $8.5 million. The matter became a campaign issue when Giattino and DeFusco ran against Bhalla.
New Jersey law states that governments must hire an outside auditor to perform an annual audit of the books, account, and financial transactions. An auditor generally writes a report and makes a number of recommendations for improvement.
In the past, the audit has been reviewed by the council’s Finance Subcommittee before it went to the council for a vote. But the new resolution stated that the subcommittee would benefit from the independent advice of a municipal audit committee.
Bhalla wanted to know why it wasn’t discussed with him before it was placed on the agenda, saying he was “somewhat offended,” as he hasn’t even taken office and a new city auditor has not been selected. He said he felt the proposal assumed “distrust” in him and his administration.
Fisher said she was simply trying to create a “collaborative committee” that would provide advice on the audit instead of less efficiently doing so in subcommittee which is not directly connected to the administration.
Aloia said it was his professional opinion and the opinion of the League of Municipalities that under the Faulkner Act (the state’s enabling legislation that defines the city’s charter), the committee is not allowed.
He said there is already a way for the council to question the auditor. The council can have an investigation or inquiry by designating some of its members into an ad hoc committee through a majority vote.
Aloia said, “The law does not allow you to take members of the administration and residents from outside and then combine to then evaluate and study and analyze what the administration is doing.”
Fisher said that her interpretation of law is that it doesn’t provide for the committee — but it doesn’t prohibit it either.
In other news, after a discussion between the members of the City Council, Business Administrator Stephen Marks, and Kirk Danielson of Suburban Consulting Engineer Inc. the council decided to approve a resolution for three change orders to the city’s contractor for the Southwest Park, but not before pulling one of the change orders for $264,524 for soil removal for further future discussion. The council had questioned at the previous meeting why the city is paying for these cost overruns.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.