To add on, or not to add on: that was the question at the Bayonne City Council meeting in December. Specifically, the discussion revolved around whether or not the council should permit add-on items to its agenda.
City Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski took a stand against the add-ons at the Dec. 15 meeting, after more items were added to the agenda that were not on it when it was published to the public.
“The print agenda is finished,” she said. “We talked 100 times during this meeting about how we don’t have enough notice or information, and then we’re going to go on and we haven’t noticed the public. The public was here, a number of people left. They didn’t even know this stuff was coming on. We’re going to address stuff that maybe people wanted to speak on. It’s not effective government and it’s not transparent government.”
Ashe-Nadrowski motioned to close the meeting, but it failed to get a second. The council continued to hear the additional add-on items, in between stopping to discuss how to better address said add-ons.
Some council members on board?
Third Ward City Councilman Gary La Pelusa was not unsympathetic, but had an all-or-nothing approach to the matter.
“I’ve been complaining for years about add-ons and everybody keeps voting for them anyway,” La Pelusa said. “So either we’re going to make one policy where you don’t have any, but you can’t pick and choose at a certain point you’re not going to hear anything else… From now on, let the directors and everybody else who’s responsible do the work in time before the caucus. If not, then it’ll have to wait until next month.”
Ashe-Nadrowski said it wasn’t arbitrary, and that the additional add-ons had not been noticed to the public. After a brief back and forth, La Pelusa said he would no longer be voting for any add-on items going forward.
Law Director Jay Coffey said the Law Department was implementing a ‘hard-and-fast’ rule to attempt to solve the problem.
“If you require the directors to come to the meeting and explain why they want the add on, you will see it diminishing in the number of add-ons that you have,” Coffey said. “In this particular case, there are several add-ons that are here because we had a change in legal counsel and I’m not going to use it as an excuse, rather use it as an explanation… But going forward, the Law Department’s rule for how we’re going to prepare documents, is that if I don’t have the pink sheets the Wednesday before the pre-agenda meeting, I’m not preparing a resolution. That’s the Law Department’s rule. So starting next month, Directors are on notice. That we have to have the pink sheets with the appropriate attachments so that we can prepare resolutions so they’ll be ready for the council caucus. And then if someone wants to bring something in after that, I’d be willing to set the time aside as long as they’re coming to the meeting and explaining why something has to be put on that could have been put on 10 days before that.”
‘Transparency in government’
After the meeting, in an interview with the Bayonne Community News, Ashe-Nadrowski further detailed her stance.
“My feeling is that we’re not allowing the pubic to participate,” she said.
Ashe-Nadrowski took issue with not holding public hearings on two items which were noticed for a hearing but failed to get a second. One was for a public hearing for the Caschem redevelopment plan and the other was for a public hearing for payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreement for the second phase of the Woodmont project.
“I can’t tell you how many things were added on because we didn’t even have a copy of anything in writing,” she said. “The public obviously had no notice about that.”
Because of that, Ashe-Nadrowski motioned to adjourn the meeting. When that failed, she voted to abstain on every add-on that was not on the agenda that was noticed to the public.
“How do I know that the resolution doesn’t change tomorrow morning?,” she said. “There’s no document. There’s nothing read into the public record on what the resolution actually said. We weren’t provided with the details. Where’s the transparency?”
‘In the dark of the night’
“I didn’t have a problem with the add-ons for what was publicized and what the public was aware of,” she said. “I think that’s fair. I think the 10 other add-ons that the public was not aware of, that’s a broken process… That’s the problem. I don’t know how we can vote on things that we had no detail on.”
And these are not minor things being added onto the agenda, Ashe-Nadrowski said.
“These were not inconsequential things,” she said. “We had no paperwork and no information. I don’t know how I can vote on something that I didn’t see.”
Ashe-Nadrowski also pointed to the timing of the add-ons, which were being heard at the end of the meeting which at that point had stretched late into the night.
“It was around 11 p.m. when I called to adjourn the meeting,” she said. “People who showed up at 7 p.m. left. They didn’t know that other stuff was on, it wasn’t listed.”
Ashe-Nadrowski, a recently declared mayoral hopeful, also took issue with the lack of communication between municipal directors and Mayor James Davis and the council: “That’s part of my issue with City Hall right now. It’s not good governance.”
Next meeting in January
Even if both Ashe-Nadrowski and La Pelusa voted no or abstained from every add-on, they could still pass in most instances if the other three council members voted yes, including First Ward City Councilman Neil Carroll, Second Ward City Councilman Sal Gullace, and At-Large City Councilman Juan Perez.
How the council approaches the add-ons will be on full display at the next council meeting in January. The Bayonne City Council will meet next at 7 p.m. on Jan. 19 in the municipal chambers in City Hall at 630 Avenue C. For more information, go to bayonnenj.org.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.