Bayonne PAL needs additional funding to stay alive

Due to the lack of support, both legally and financially, Torello said he feels the current administration has turned on him

The Bayonne Police Athletic League (PAL) and Day Care Center are still barely staying afloat financially, according to their Executive Director “KT” Kim Torello.

The PAL currently operates out of its home in William Shemin Midtown Community School at 550 Avenue A.

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Both the PAL and the day care are embroiled in a sexual assault lawsuit with decades-old allegations that has already cost the PAL hundreds of thousands in attorney’s fees.

Torello has asked the council for financial assistance to stay afloat, although this time petitioning the governing body for money, not for legal fees but to keep programs going. The topic will likely come up again at the April 20 meeting of the Bayonne City Council.

Torello is running for City Councilmember At-Large on a slate with City Council President and mayoral candidate Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski in the upcoming May 10 municipal election.

Torello made his first appeal at the public portion of the March council meeting. He previously addressed the council regarding the legal issues the PAL was facing, and reiterated that the sexual assault lawsuit from 1968 was the root of the financial woes.

“As everyone is well aware, we were hit with a lawsuit from 1968,” Torello said. “The plaintiff says he was sexually abused in 1968, we’re talking 54 years ago almost. We had to hire an attorney, very expensive at that. Most of the people in that era have passed on, I’m probably the oldest person left there and at that time I was a child myself playing basketball.”

Day care caught in legal battle

According to Torello, while the suit is centered around the PAL, the suit is also filed against the day care, and threatens both their existence. 

“The day care center is a very important part of this city,” Torello. “It’s the largest in the city. It has the most children in it. Most of them have a single parent where the mother goes to work, knows the child will be safe there all day, and come back. We have 40 basketball youth teams that compete all the way through the summer. Some of the gentlemen up here and the council president are sponsors.”

Torello said the heavy lawyer fees are putting the program at risk, as well as preventing it’s expansion.

“I don’t have enough money to upkeep or grow the program,” Torello said. “I give free homework help after school to children. I can’t afford to get another teacher, so I have to limit class size. That’s not Bayonne. Bayonne should always take care of its own… We are hemorrhaging money. We have reached $125,000 in attorney fees. No nonprofit could sustain that kind of money coming of its budget which it did not plan for every month. It’s impacting every service.”

Agreeing to disagree 

Torello pointed out that the city was operating PAL at the time of the allegations, and was thus responsible. He acknowledged that Law Director Jay Coffey disputed that the PAL was a separate entity at the time, but still disagreed.

“Our belief, and our board of directors believe, that the city of Bayonne owned the PAL,” Torello said. “It was run by Bayonne police officers. They opened the doors, they maintained the building, they closed the building. If we needed structural work done, I remember the great Mayor Dennis Collins would just send everybody over. That basically confirms who was in charge. The city is not going to fix your roof if they don’t own the building.”

Coffey said that the city was not liable, repeating that the PAL was a separate entity at the time with a “handshake lease” and therefore responsible. Due to the lack of support, both legally and financially, Torello said he feels the current administration has turned on him.

“What upsets me the most is the loyalty I have shown to this administration, only to walk out with a knife in my back,” Torello said. “I find it appalling that the city can take care of its own sexual assault suits, defamation suits, harassment suits, but not the children that live here and their parents that work in the city.”

Some funding secured by Ashe-Nadrowski and Gullace

Since the last meeting, Torello said Ashe-Nadrowski reached out to him to seek CARES Act funds. After turning it over to the appropriate personnel at the PAL, they were able to get some money to continue the program.

“We received a $25,000 grant,” Torello said. “This was before I was asked by the council president to run on her ticket.”

Torello touted Ashe-Nadrowski and Second Ward City Councilman Sal Gullace’s support of the PAL. Gullace raised additional monies to keep the PAL afloat.

“Mr. Gullace’s is one of the PAL’s biggest supporters. Even with his bad leg he comes to his team’s basketball games. Within two weeks, Mr. Gullace raised thousands of dollars for the PAL from developers.”

After waiting for the council’s help since his last plea, Torello said he waited and didn’t here much back apart from Ashe-Nadrowski and Gullace. He said that was to his dismay because he had supported the other members of the council for election in the past.

‘Lackluster’ response from rest of council

“I backed everybody that’s sitting there with my entire life,” Torello said.

“Only two people responded back to me. Another one had a short conversation. The two that did not, it’s hurtful. This is not personal, this is business. What I do for a living impacts the whole city immensely, whether you know it or not.”

According to Torello, he had a brief conversation with Third Ward City Councilman Gary La Pelusa, who he said told him that his hands were tied. However, Torello did not hear from First Ward City Councilman Neil Carroll nor City Councilman At-Large Juan Perez. Notably, La Pelusa, Carroll, and Perez are running on a slate with Mayor James Davis against Ashe-Nadrowski and thus Torello.

“Mr. Carroll, I couldn’t do more for you when you wanted to be elected,” Torello said. “In 60 days, you haven’t called me back. I find that, I don’t want to say insulting because I respect you as a man, but I did expect to hear back from you. Mr. Perez, the same thing.I backed you guys to the hilt, and now that my kids need help, no one here is willing to step up because their hands are tied. Somebody tell me what I need to do to untie this so that we may grow.”

Torello asked this time not for help legally or with the related fees, but for help funding the PAL’s programs.

Additional monies needed

“I’m not asking for a lot,” Torello said. “I’m asking for help, and we do need it.”

Ashe-Nadrowksi reiterated her support to work with Torello financially but again said that legally the council’s hands were tied.

“Our hands are tied by the administration,” Ashe-Nadrowski said. “That would directly have to come from them. But we would support you in any way and try to find more funds, any grants, and any more money we can get you to hold you over until there’s some resolution. As you said, you provide a service that we can’t let fail because it provides a service for so many families in need.”

Coffey asked for clarification whether Torello wanted the city to cover the legal fees, for which Torello said that he is asking for funds, or funding the programs that the legal fees are preventing from operating at maximum capacity.

Coffey said that was doable because it didn’t put the city at risk of legal liability by covering legal fees directly.

“That’s a different story than you’re looking for fiscal assistance from the city of Bayonne or some funds that the city may have,” Coffey said. “That doesn’t expose us to liability. So that’s the discussion you can have with council. But that’s not what you asked for last time.”

Other ways of finding funding?

Coffey said he previously worked with Torello to get the PAL daycare funded properly and understands the importance of financial stability for the facility.

“Maybe there’s another way to offset these liabilities,” Coffey said. “It was dire straits for the PAL when it wasn’t funded right. We worked for two years to get the PAL day care back into the green. That’s a different story, but I think there are applications that can be made. There are letters that can be written to the council to delineate what you’re actually looking for. I can’t sit here and tell you as the attorney for the city of Bayonne that we’re going to expose ourselves and become part of a lawsuit, but there are other avenues for you.”

Coffey again repeated Torello’s funding request had changed from 60 days prior, but that he would work with Torello on securing any potentially additional funding that the PAL may be eligible for.

“We can delineate what exactly you’re looking for and then that could be presented to the council,” Coffey said referring to the April meeting.

Torello agreed to Coffey’s proposal, but still disagreed that the PAL was a separate entity and requested the city provide documentation otherwise. Coffey agreed to disagree on that part of the conversation.

The council meets in person in the council chambers at City Hall at 630 Avenue C at 7 p.m., with remote viewing options. 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 disrael@hudsonreporter.com. 

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