Outgoing City Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski led the City Council in voting down by 5-0 the second of two ordinances that would condemn the Bayonne Medical Center property through eminent domain.
The ordinances were intended to assist BMC Hospital, LLC, the chosen successor to operate Bayonne Medical Center by current operator CarePoint Health, over the landlord and property owner Hudson Regional Hospital, which also wants to operate the facility.
At her last meeting on the council, Ashe-Nadrowski used her parting speech to shed light on an issue she had raised through a statement before the meeting regarding the one eminent domain ordinance left on the agenda. She opposed 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.
The first ordinance was shot down by the council in May after months of postponement. The second ordinance was postponed until the June meeting under the guise that the council was waiting for the Local Finance Board to move on it, required before the council could act.
Deception or dereliction of duty? Or both?
However, Ashe-Nadrowski discovered the matter was withdrawn from Local Finance back in December. Angry at the deception, she tore into the Davis Administration at the June meeting.
“As recently as January, my colleagues and I sat up here and bickered about whether we should move this or not,” she said, hearing ‘We can’t move it because Local Finance hasn’t ruled on this.’ Well it came to light that the application to the Local Finance Board to bond for this was withdrawn back in December. So this council, everyone sitting up here, was not given that information.”
Ashe-Nadrowski argued that the lack of that information misinformed the council, who otherwise might have joined her in voting down the ordinances sooner and quashing an issue that popped up throughout the municipal election, when she lost a bid to unseat Mayor James Davis.
“I’m confident that if my colleagues had known that the application had been withdrawn back in December or January when we had this discussion, they would have voted ‘no’ right alongside me.”
Ashe-Nadrowski ended her short speech with a warning for the new council members: “All you newly elected officials serve the city, but be vigilant and do not blindly trust what the city administration is telling you.”
Consultant falls on the sword
Prior to the vote, she and a number of residents asked if anyone in the city administration knew about the hot button election issue which previously filled the council chambers with residents opining on the topic on both sides.
Law Director Jay Coffey pointed to consultant Michael Hanley of NW Financial, who he said withdrew the application personally. Hanley took the podium to explain the process and why the matter was withdrawn.
“Typically the ordinance is introduced,” Hanley said. “You make an application to the Local Finance Board. They either ask questions or don’t. You have a hearing. After their hearing, if you get approval, then you can adopt your ordinance.”
Hanley said the process was stalled after letters from the entities involved, including Hudson Regional and BMC Hospital, LLC had raised questions as well as other aspects of the application.
“In this case, they came back with questions,” Hanley said. “We were not able to give them answers in the time frame. They were carrying the item to be on their agenda month after month. They said ‘We don’t do that, we have to hear it. Do you have answers?’ I said ‘We don’t have answers and we will withdraw it and make a new application when we have answers to those questions.'”
Ultimately, Hanley took blame for what he called a mistake: “I did not contact Jay, which was my error.”
Ashe-Nadrowski not buying it
Ashe-Nadrowski, unconvinced, asked when this was withdrawn, to which Hanley confirmed it was in December. She asked who authorized him to do so, to which he said: “I don’t recall.”
She said,“Somebody had to authorize it. I’m sure somebody at the county wasn’t going to withdraw it without having a conversation with the city.”
Hanley said, ”I believe that I spoke to the group generally, and I was told not on the question but was told ‘We will not have answers.’ I made the decision to withdraw it.”
Ashe-Nadrowski continued to cross-examine Hanley: “So you had the authority to withdraw it? I’m just asking because it’s kind of unusual to make that call to withdraw an application with Local Finance without approval from somebody.”
Hanley echoed he didn’t recall who gave him the authority to withdraw the application: “I don’t recall the process.” However, Ashe-Nadrowski did not believe that he could act alone: “Somebody had to authorize it at the county level.”
Continuing to ask why nobody knew about it, Ashe-Nadrowski noted Hanley was also an advisor to the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Donna Mauer and was assisting with the upcoming budget.
“I find it hard to believe that in your conversations with our CFO, that this never came up.”
Hanley said it didn’t come up. Mauer echoed that when asked.
Waiting until after election
Ashe-Nadrowski continued to question Hanley, the passion increasing in her voice: “Jay has really been playing the Business Administrator role for the past three years. Everything runs through him. No one ever mentioned that this was withdrawn? This is a big deal. This was $95 million dollars in debt we were going to incur. This has to be reflected in our debt statement and all that this year. And we’re in the middle of a budget. Our budget is actually late. But no one had a conversation about it?… Either people aren’t saying what they knew, or people were derelict in their duty and didn’t really do their job and find out or no one followed up. We had something so important that the sky was going to fall if we didn’t do eminent domain in Bayonne. That was the message coming out of this administration… Then it gets pulled. And for six months, and it would have went on longer if I didn’t find out about it, we were just going to continue this charade of pretending there was an option to do this and go down this path.”
Ashe-Nadrowski also pointed to all the numerous union workers and hospital employees who spoke before the council and falsely believed that their jobs and the hospital were being saved by eminent domain.
“It just seems dishonest.”
Hanley said, “I think it’s a mechanical issue and not necessarily a policy issue. Whenever those answers are available, we can immediately make a new application.”
‘Someone had to have known’
While Hanley continued to take the blame, Ashe-Nadrowski echoed there were people in the administration who had to know.
“With all due respect, I don’t believe as a consultant you have the authority to make that decision,” Ashe-Nadrowski said. “I don’t believe that the people at the county made the decision without conferring with people in City Hall. It was the application on our behalf. I find that hard to believe… The Bayonne people were lied to the last six months. As was this entire council.”
While Ashe-Nadrowski contended the matter was a moot point since the application was withdrawn, Hanley argued a new application can be submitted in the future. He also noted this ordinance would have expired anyway considering the new council was going to be sworn in come July and would have to reintroduce both ordinances if it wanted to act on them.
“The hospital issue continues to exist and it’s going to be a part of your policy conversations,” Hanley said. “At any moment, a new application can be made to act on that.”
Ashe-Nadrowski countered: “That’s assuming the situation stays the same with the hospital which I’m sure it won’t.” Hanley agreed, and again took the blame for the lack of knowledge on the city’s part.
Officials maintain innocence
Ashe-Nadrowski said the entities involved knew eminent domain was off the table, and directed questions at Coffey. In response, he repeated that he was unaware of the withdrawal.
“I knew about it this afternoon when I saw your press release,” Coffey said to Ashe-Nadrowski. “I contacted Mike [Hanley] and asked if this was true and he said yes. There is no way I would sit here for six months having these discussion and arguments if I knew there was no application. This is a political football.”
Ashe-Nadrowski interjected that it was a relevant political issue during the election. Coffey said it’s not part of budgeting until the bond is approved and added the Hudson County Improvement Authority filed the application not the city.
Ashe-Nadrowski continued to press Coffey and Hanley: “So you don’t consider it when you know you have it out there? You don’t know this at all, nothing about it? Nobody in City Hall knew anything about it? You had a conversation not with our CFO, not the mayor’s office?”
Hanley said he didn’t recall any conversations: “There were certainly discussion about the hospital. I don’t recall the conversation on this point. My main point of contact for the hospital was Joe [DeMarco].”
“Joe was gone at this point,” Ashe-Nadrowski said. “He was gone in September. This happened in December… I would hope the county contacted someone here, because I would assume that you didn’t do it on your own and you had to be authorized.”
When asked about who the aforementioned group he discuss the issues with was, Hanley said “there were many conversations over a long period of time. I don’t have a specific recollection of a conversation in December.”
Residents skeptical too
Resident Dave Solari questioned when Davis knew of this, to which Coffey said Davis found out after he told him. In response to further questions from Solari, Coffey said that based off Hanley’s recollection, the county knew in December.
“I guess we can’t trust the county,” Solari said. “We can’t trust any of their people that are going to try and be part of something. I guess we all just have to watch ourselves then.”
Ashe-Nadrowski said it was job of administration to get information such as this out to the community. Solari agreed and called on Davis to make a public address on the matter. Former city employee Gail Godesky went further, calling the defense that nobody knew as “bullcrap.”
“You’re telling the public and the taxpayers that no one in the administration knew this? We have a consultant that works with our CFO,” Godesky said. “There’s something radically wrong with the whole damn system, that a consultant knew about but nobody in the administration knew about. Simply stupid. That’s atrocious. It’s a dereliction of duty by the administration.”
Resident George Ramirez touted that the taxpayers would be saved from the $95 million bond but that CarePoint Health’s transition to a nonprofit would reduce tax revenue to the city.
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.