Could a medical cannabis review board be in Hoboken’s future?

Council introduces new marijuana legislation, votes on payroll, and shells out more money for Washington Street

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Councilman Michael Russo questioned Assistant Business Administrator Patrick Wherry about the Washington Street Redesign Project.
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The Hoboken City Council will vote on new marijuana legislation on Feb. 20.
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Councilman Michael Russo questioned Assistant Business Administrator Patrick Wherry about the Washington Street Redesign Project.
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The Hoboken City Council will vote on new marijuana legislation on Feb. 20.

The Hoboken City Council will vote on new legislation regarding medical marijuana dispensaries in town during its Feb. 20 meeting.

The council introduced the ordinance during the Feb. 6 meeting. It would create a local review board for dispensaries.

The council also approved of more funds for the Washington Street Redesign project, appointed Councilman Peter Cunningham to the Hoboken University Medical Center’s Board of Directors, and voted on the city’s payroll despite an opinion from the city’s assistant corporation counsel telling them they had no legal authority to do so.

This last action comes after the council had amended the payroll to omit the salary increase of the mayor’s chief of staff and payments to the former spokesperson for the city.

Marijuana

The council unanimously introduced a zoning ordinance that would amend a Dec. 19 ordinance permitting three medical marijuana dispensaries in certain areas of town.

The amendments include creating a Medical Cannabis Dispensary Review Board comprised of the mayor or his designee, a council member, and the chairman of the Hoboken Planning Board or their designee.

The review board will review and approve applications for licenses within the city, conduct hearings, and impose disciplinary measures, sanctions and/or penalties.

The ordinance, sponsored by Councilman Michael DeFusco, also prohibits a medical marijuana dispensary from opening on Bloomfield Street, Court Street, or First Street west of Washington Street.

DeFusco said he felt the original ordinance would greatly impact his ward and downtown Hoboken and that the updated ordinance was needed.

The council also unanimously passed a resolution sponsored by DeFusco that would create a ‘Cannabis Benefit District’ that would provide funding for street improvements, additional law enforcement, or other resources to the neighborhoods directly impacted by a dispensary.

Washington Street

In an 8-1 vote, the council also approved of additional funds to the contractor and project manager of the Washington Street Redesign Project, which replaces water mains and underground infrastructure beneath the city’s main street, repaves the road, and includes safety features like curb extensions and new traffic signals.

The project was originally supposed to be completed in August of last year for a total contract amount of $2 million to project managers T&M Associates, and $17.6 million to construction company Underground Utilities.

The council approved a $135,024 amendment to T&M Associates, the eighth contract amendment, bringing their total contract amount up to $2.89 million.

The council also approved a $29,743 change order to Underground Utilities, the 27th change order approved by the council, bringing their total contract amount up to $19.4 million.

According to Assistant Business Administrator Patrick Wherry, the contract amendment for T&M Associates will cover costs related to their oversight and inspections of the project for the months of February and March. He said it was possible if the project is not completed by then that there may be a future contract amendment for more funding for another contract extension into April.

According to a tweet by Deputy Chief of Staff Jason Freeman, the project is scheduled for completion by the end of May.

Payroll

The City Council continued to vote on the city’s payroll despite receiving a legal opinion prior to the Feb. 6 meeting stating the opinion that they had no legal right to do so.

The opinion, provided in a Jan. 29 memo from Assistant Corporation Council Alyssa Bongiovanni to Business Administrator Stephen Marks, states: “It is not required or permitted by the Faulkner Act or any other relevant law that the City Council vote on payroll in order for same to be paid. Further, it is not appropriate for the City Council to vote on payroll, given that approving payroll is not a power assigned to the City Council and therefore allowing the City Council to vote on same results in the Council taking action that they are not legally authorized to take.”

The opinion states that the mayor is entitled to establish salaries within his budget to his employees unless they are covered by a salary ordinance or collective bargaining agreement approved by the council.

This opinion stems from the council’s Jan. 16 decision to amend the payroll to exclude $490.35 retroactive pay for a salary increase to the mayor’s current Chief of Staff John Allen. The raise, according to Marks, was a “merit-based raise” given after the anniversary of his employment.

According to a footnote in the legal opinion, since the council had no legal authority to amend the payroll, Allen received his pay despite the council’s vote.

“Based upon this opinion, no action is being taken with regard to the Council’s ‘denial’ of the payment,” it states. “Simply put, because the Council is not empowered to approve or alter salary payments made within budgetary confines, said ‘action’ by the Council shall be treated as the Council’s objection to the salary increase in lieu of a denial that requires legal action to recover the portion of the payment that was ‘denied.’”

 For updates on this and other stories keep checking www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Marilyn Baer can be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.