Newly publicized emails show that the application by the City of Bayonne and Hudson County to acquire the property of Bayonne Medical Center was withdrawn from the state back in December of 2021.
Recapping a complicated history
For over a year, the Bayonne City Council has postponed a vote on two ordinances that would provide $95 million in bonds to fund the condemnation of Bayonne Medical Center through eminent domain by the Hudson County Improvement Authority (HCIA). That possible action followed CarePoint Health’s sale of the hospital, and designating BMC Hospital, LLC, formed by the principals of surgery center chain Surgicore, to operate the facility.
The hospital land, however, was sold to Hudson Regional Hospital in Secaucus in 2020 at the same time the deal was inked with BMC Hospital, LLC. With Hudson Regional seeking to both own and operate the hospital, a war began over who would run Bayonne Medical Center’s operations.
In a move that ultimately supports BMC Hospital LLC, the county initiated the eminent domain process in 2020. The city followed and the city council introduced and subsequently held a public hearing on both ordinances in May of 2021, but has since postponed final passage pending approval from the state.
‘Groundhog Day’ finally over?
City Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski, who regularly opposes the eminent domain ordinances, says the conflict is between private entities that the city shouldn’t be involved. She points out that local zoning protects the hospital from being redeveloped into anything else. Second Ward City Councilman Sal Gullace has abstained on voting because he sits on the board of Bayonne Medical Center.
Then in a surprising twist, Ashe-Nadrowski was joined in May by the rest of the council including First Ward City Councilman Neil Carroll, Third Ward City Councilman Gary La Pelusa, and City Councilman At-Large Juan Perez, in voting no on the first ordinance, striking it down 4-0.
When that seemed to some of the council to be an accident, the council then voted to postpone the second hospital ordinance, waiting for approval from the state. Ashe-Nadrowski voted against postponement and Gullace abstained, while the other members voted for it after clarification from Law Director Jay Coffey.
Ashe-Nadrowski’s and Gullace’s respective opposition and abstention have essentially killed the ordinances, which require a supermajority of four of the five council members to vote yes to pass. But instead of holding a final vote on either of them, the other council members have argued it was improper to vote on the ordinances until a determination had been made by the Local Finance Board, which is a part of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs.
Officials including Coffey, Carroll, La Pelusa, and Perez among others had argued the council was waiting on the Local Finance Board. But it now appears the board had made its decision back in December of 2021.
Emails show application withdrawn in December
In the summer of 2021, the Local Finance Board declined to approve the bonding. Instead, it requested additional information from the HCIA and the City of Bayonne.
While officials said the board was still waiting on the city and county, that is not the case. Emails provided to Bayonne Community News show an interaction between Nick Bennett, the Secretary of the Local Finance Board, and Michael Hanley of NW Financial, which represents the city and the HCIA, that confirms that the application was withdrawn.
On October 25, Bennett emailed Hanley asking for the status of the application. On October 27, Hanley stated that “there are current conversations ongoing that will influence how and if we move forward. But there is no definitive conclusion at this point” and said he would follow up when he had more information.
The Local Finance Board confirmed that it was waiting for the city and HCIA as of early December of 2021. “As of October 27, 2021, the applicant has not determined how to move forward,” said Tammori Petty-Dixon, Director of Communications for the Department of Community Affairs, told the Bayonne Community News, noting that “the application is still pending but considered incomplete until such time that the Board’s concerns are addressed.”
On December 23, Bennet followed up with Hanley as to the status of the application, asking if the HCIA would like it withdrawn. He also noted that there had not been new financing information since July of 2021.
On the same day, three minutes later, Hanley replied that “it can be withdrawn.” And minutes after that, Bennet confirmed that the $95,000,000 HCIA application for the Bayonne Hospital was withdrawn.
Ashe-Nadrowski questions honesty of administration
The issue of the bonding has been discussed at various council meetings. Ashe-Nadrowski pointed out that at each meeting when the topic was raised, Coffey advised the public and the council that the application was pending in front of the state’s Local Finance Board, and that no action should be taken until the board reviewed the application.
Throughout the recent mayoral campaign, Ashe-Nadrowski underscored that Mayor James Davis also argued that the bonding was needed to ensure the continued operation of the hospital and that he was committed to the city acquiring the property. Davis also said that no action should be taken until the Local Finance Board ruled.
“One of the primary responsibilities of elected officials and representatives of the city is to be open and honest with the public about what is actually happening,” said Ashe-Nadrowski. “Unfortunately, in Bayonne that doesn’t always happen. For the City Administration not to disclose to the Council and the residents that the application had been withdrawn is unforgivable.”
Ashe-Nadrowski predicts that the city administration’s answer to discovering the application no longer exists will be that they did not know the application was withdrawn.
“To continue to mislead elected officials and the public on such an important issue, whether willful or due to incompetence, is unacceptable,” added Ashe-Nadrowski. “I believe the council members I have served with acted on the information as provided to them.”
Last council meeting with current council tonight
Ashe-Nadrowski intends to move once again to have the council vote no on the ordinances for the hospital. The Bayonne City Council is scheduled to meet tonight at 7 p.m. in the municipal chambers at City Hall at 630 Avenue C.
This is the last official meeting prior to the July 1 reorganization meeting of the newly elected council members. Ashe-Nadrowski also offered some parting words for the new council ahead of the June meeting.
“I would encourage the newly elected council members to verify the information they are provided,” Ashe-Nadrowski said. “As someone once said, ‘A half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth.'”
Coffey confirmed to the Bayonne Community News that Hanley had withdrawn the application back in December. However, he stated: “No one advised me.”
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at email@example.com.