After a year of postponements, the Bayonne City Council has finally acted on one of the hospital eminent domain ordinances. However, what happened at the May City Council meeting is not something that anybody could have predicted.
The council has been sitting on the two ordinances that would condemnation of the property of Bayonne Medical Center to allow BMC Hospital, LLC to become the landowner. BMC Hospital LLC is the chosen successor of current hospital operator, CarePoint Health, as it is exiting the market and selling its assets, including Bayonne Medical Center.
At the same time when CarePoint announced their agreement with BMC Hospital LLC in 2020, the land of the hospital was purchased by Hudson Regional Hospital. The Secaucus-based hospital purchased the land from Avery Eisenreich, CEO of nursing home chain Alaris Health, who first bought it from CarePoint in 2019. Ever since, Hudson Regional Hospital and BMC Hospital, LLC have been fighting to be both the owner and operator of the facility.
Amid the back-and-forth, the city has initiated eminent domain proceedings with the help of the county to intervene on behalf of BMC Hospital LLC, a private entity formed by the principals of surgery center chain Surgicore. The council introduced and subsequently held a public hearing on both ordinances in May of 2021, but each month has postponed final passage pending approval from the state Local Finance Board for what has now been a year.
A cycle broken
Regardless, the ordinances are set to fail under the current council, with Second Ward City Councilman Sal Gullace having previously abstained due to a conflict of interest since he sat on the board of Bayonne Medical Center. Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski is opposed to the ordinances, saying that the conflict is between private entities that the city shouldn’t be involved, since the zoning protects the hospital from being redeveloped into anything else. But that hasn’t stopped the rest of the council from waiting on the Local Finance Board to “keep their options open.”
It has been “Groundhog Day” when it comes to these ordinances for over a year now, with the council doing the same thing and postponing them each month. Sometimes, Ashe-Nadrowski motions to vote on the ordinances instead of postponing them, but the council usually does not second her motion.
Following that, what typically happens is First Ward City Councilman Neil Carroll then makes a motion to postpone, which is usually seconded by Third Ward City Councilman Gary La Pelusa or City Councilman At-Large Juan Perez, and then the council votes 3-1 with Gullace abstaining and Ashe-Nadrowski voting no to postpone both ordinances.
However, this time, things went differently. Ashe-Nadrowski again made a motion to vote on the ordinance, which was this time seconded by Gullace.
“I would like to go forward with this,” Ashe-Nadrowski said. “I move it to go forward.”
And when it came time to vote, things went differently this time around.
First ordinance voted down?
Carroll asked for clarification on what the council was voting on. City Clerk Madelene Medina said that the vote was on final passage of the ordinance.
“We’re voting on the motion to order final passage,” Medina said. “Council President moved it forward for final passage. Mr. Gullace seconded it.”
Carroll was still confused, to which Medina again clarified the council was voting on final passage of the ordinance.
“We’re ordering final passage on this ordinance tonight?” Carroll said. “Then I vote no.”
Gullace abstained on the vote. La Pelusa voted no and Perez voted no. Lastly, Ashe-Nadrowski delivered the final no vote to shoot down the ordinance. In total, the council voted 4-0 to reject the first ordinance, with Gullace’s abstention.
“It did not pass final passage, ordinance failed adoption,” Medina said.
It was a surreal moment, given this was the first post-election council meeting and the council seemed to make a reversal on their stance on the eminent domain issue, from waiting on the Local Finance Board to voting it down.
Attorney clarifies votes for councilmen
And things almost played out the same for the second ordinance until a non-council member intervened. Ashe-Nadrowski again motioned for final passage, which was seconded by Gullace.
But as Carroll was voting no on the second ordinance, Law Director Jay Coffey jumped in because he “wanted to make sure people know what they’re voting on,” implying that the council was not aware of the implications of their vote.
In response, Ashe-Nadrowski chided Coffey for interrupting the vote: “We’re in the middle of our vote. So can we finish our vote?” Coffey did not react to her request.
Coffey continued: “The ordinance was scheduled for hearing. There had been previous postponements. The measure on today was through June 15.”
Ashe-Nadrowski again told Coffey he was stepping out of line: “Jay you’re really interrupting the process.” Coffey still continued unabated.
“Council President made a motion for final passage today,” Coffey said. “The question is, is this an up and down vote on this matter today, or does this move it to June 15?”
“It was on for final passage today, that’s what Madelene said,” Ashe-Nadrowski said.
Medina echoed that, clarifying again the motion Ashe-Nadrowski made “was to order final passage.”
A vote is a vote
However, Carroll claimed his vote was against Ashe-Nadrowski’s motion for final passage, not against the ordinance itself.
“It was up for postponement of final passage, which is what I voted to do, to June 15,” Carroll said. “I voted no on your motion to open it for an up and down vote today.”
The council members talked over each other before Coffey spoke again.
“Madelene, the question is, what happened to that first ordinance,” Coffey said. “It was on for postponing to June 15… Council President moved to have it voted for final passage. It was seconded. And the vote on whether or not it was to go to final passage was defeated.”
“No,” Ashe-Nadrowski said, rejecting Coffey’s notion that the vote was against the motion to order final passage as opposed to against the ordinance itself.
Both Carroll and Coffey then tried to contend that his vote was against the motion for final passage as opposed to a vote against the ordinance on final passage.
Voting on the motion and the ordinance?
Under this logic, the council would then need to hold another vote on the ordinance itself after the vote on the motion to order final passage, which does not traditionally occur when voting on ordinances.
“Your motion was to move it for final passage,” Coffey said. “That was defeated, therefore there is no final passage.”
Ashe-Nadrowski countered: “That’s not what Madelene said.”
Coffey hit back: “But I’m telling you, that’s what the vote did.”
In response, Ashe-Nadrowski said that Medina was the City Clerk, not him. Coffey acknowledged this and said he was trying to ask Medina about it.
“My belief is that the motion by the Council President to have it heard for final passage this evening was defeated, three to two,” Coffey said.
Ashe-Nadrowski said “that wasn’t the motion” she made, which was to order final passage. She also noted there was not a vote on the motion to postpone the ordinances as well as a vote on the postponement itself each month, which Coffey and Carroll imply needs to occur for final passage in this instance.
Clerk confirms first ordinance failed
In response to Ashe-Nadrowski, Coffey alleged the council was not clear on what they were voting for the first time: “I think you guys need to understand what you are voting on on that first one. I believe what you said is that you wanted to have it moved for final passage when the rest of the council believed it was on to be put off for a month.”
“I’m just saying what I said, what Madelene said, and what we voted on,” Ashe-Nadrowski said.
Medina clarified again what had happened: “What it was, was a motion for final passage, which it failed.” Since the motion was for final passage, a no vote meant a vote against the ordinance itself, leading to it being voted down, instead of a vote against the motion leading to the motion failing.
Coffey reiterated that he didn’t think “the council understood what the motion was.” Ashe-Nadrowski said the first ordinance was voted on and failed final passage and asked Medina to continue to the next ordinance.
Carroll interjected: “A motion was asked for to vote on this. That motion was defeated. We now need to return to 0-1, where I make a motion to postpone to June 15.”
Gullace noted that ordinance was dead: “We already made the motion.”
Carroll then argued: “The motion to move it forward was defeated. We now are faced with this continuing motion.”
Medina clarified again that the motion did not fail, but that “final passage” of the ordinance “was defeated.”
Council postpones second ordinance
Medina said that if Carroll wanted to postpone it, he could have made a motion: “You are given the opportunity to move and second it to be postponed again.”
Carroll said that there’s a motion on the floor to postpone both ordinances made by himself. Ashe-Nadrowski hit back that the first ordinance was already voted on: “How do you carry something we voted down? Are we redoing the vote?”
“You voted on the final passage,” Medina said of the first ordinance. Speaking of the second ordinance, she said: “Now Mr. Carroll is making a motion to postpone this to June.”
Coffey again said: “I believe the council believed what they had before them was going to be moved, as it states on the agenda.”
Carroll continued: “I not only believe that, I stated that as I was voting. If that was incorrect, it should have been clarified at that moment.”
A member of the audience noted that it had been clarified what the vote was about three times prior to Carroll voting no. Regardless, Carroll continued with his motion to postpone the ordinance, which Medina confirmed was for the second ordinance only after a question from Ashe-Nadrowski.
Ordering final passage
Medina continued to take a vote for this ordinance, with Ashe-Nadrowski attempting to interrupt and note that they had not finished their vote on her motion to order final passage. But she let it go as it appeared the other council members had either changed their minds or started paying attention and voted to postpone the second ordinance.
“On 0-2, I motion to postpone for June,” Carroll said. The council then vote 3-2 to postpone the second ordinance with Ashe-Nadrowski and Gullace voting no. There was only one vote, which was on the motion for postponement, as opposed to a subsequent vote Coffey and Carroll alleged should have taken place following the motion for the first ordinance.
Subsequently, the council did not make any further motions or votes on the first ordinance. Since both ordinances are a pair, it appears that if the council ever does opt to go forward with eminent domain on Bayonne Medical Center, it would likely need to reintroduce and hold another public hearing for the first ordinance before adopting both simultaneously. That would begin at the next city council meeting in June, the last before the new Davis-supporting council elected in the May 10 municipal election is seated in July.
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.