In a statement read during last week’s city council meeting, Second Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason called for Corporation Counsel Steven Kleinman’s job citing his ability to fairly represent the council.
This was in response to a letter to the editor Kleinman wrote in the February 24th Hoboken Reporter, calling Mason “the New York Knicks of plaintiffs” due to her litigation record and the expense she has cost the city in her numerous lawsuits against the city and other establishments concerning the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).
Mason said in her statement, “I submit that this council should consider terminating him and retaining the services of an attorney who appreciates and understands his proper role,” or as an alternative “the council may want to consider hiring our own attorney.”
Peter Cammarano, councilman at-large, said, “Until you have a two-thirds vote to remove him and he remains in the mayor’s confidence, he’s in that position, if you think you have a two-thirds vote, then make the motion.”
Mason said last week during a phone interview, “I got the sense [at the council meeting] that that is not something that the council, as a body… was particularly interested in.”
She contends that Kleinman misrepresented the facts of the cases, including “the number of lawsuits, the total number of pages of the documents I requested and the time required to provide the documents.”
“The comments I made, I do stand by,” Kleinman said at the meeting and offered to provide Mason with documentation to back up his claims. “I believe they are factually accurate,” he added.
Mason said that she will be following up on his offer.
“I question if we are getting Mr. Kleinman’s full attention to legal matters at this time,” Mason said in her statement.
“I did not write that letter on city time, I wrote it on Sunday morning… both in my position and as a citizen of Hoboken,” said Kleinman.
Kleinman said in an interview this week that he was wary to engage in the issue any further since Mason is an active litigant in a case he is defending, although he admitted that “I respect Councilwoman Mason and she does have the right to criticism.”
Admitting that inaccuracies needed to be addressed, Fourth Ward Councilwoman Dawn Zimmer said that just as Mason had used the press, “The city does have a right to express its side of the story.”
Councilman At-Large Ruben Ramos asked Mason, “How many times did the city of Hoboken satisfy your requests?” Mason said she had not been counting.
“Put every document that comes to this city hall online,” said Third Ward Councilman Michael Russo, “We’ll never have another OPRA request in our lives.”
“While I champion what you’ve done, in terms of OPRA and making things cheaper for residents and I applaud that,” said Councilwoman At-Large Terry LaBruno, “I think there’s a point where you stifle progress when you become obsessed with one issue.”
Resident activist Maurice “Mo” DeGennaro, speaking during the public portion, said, “These things should be resolved and they shouldn’t have to be resolved here in front of the public.”
Splitting the budget
Business Administrator Richard England submitted the city’s budget, which is eight months late, back to the council this week. It included a tax levy of $3.1 million reduced from the $3.2 million submitted by the council in November of last year. The budget had yet to be reviewed by the council so they did not comment on its merits.
Russo proposed a splitting of the ongoing temporary budget to push the process of the full budget forward. He wanted to split the temporary budget so that the council could approve salaries and wages but not operations and expenditures, so that the city would not attach any more spending to the proposed budget.
The initial vote to split the budget failed to pass, but then England asked them to reconsider, which they did. The council then agreed to vote separately on salaries and wages, but not operations and expenditures.
The council then voted separately on salaries and wages and operations and expenditures. They passed the vote to pay salaries and wages, but did not pass the vote to pay operations and expenditures.
The budget did include, according to England, “a four percent tax decrease to the taxpayers… for the final billing quarter of this fiscal year,” which would then revert back to the current rate.
There are also 40 to 55 municipal employees, including 14 high-ranking public safety officers, who are coming off the payroll, mostly due to retirement, by the end of the year, said England during the meeting.
England also asked the council whether he could post the budget on the website which they allowed.
At the next meeting, the council will vote on the budget and send it back to the Mayor for approval.
Footing the bill
The city council found a few claims that they weren’t convinced should be the responsibility of the city to pay. Council President Castellano found a claim that, according to she and other council members, the mayor had promised to pay out of his donated salary.
The payment was for landscaping at Sybil’s Cave on Sinatra Blvd. and one bill for $16,000 was removed from the claims. Castellano said that two previous bills had already been paid and that she hoped all three, totaling $24,000, would be removed. England said he would look into the matter.
Another claim to pay a city-contracted architect’s plane tickets was brought up by Mason. The architect was transferred to the Boston office by his Manhattan firm M. Van Valkenburgh Architects and the city was going to pay over $21,000 in airfare used for him to fly back and forth.
“Why is the city picking up the airfare if they chose to move that person to another place if they were working on our project?” Mason questioned.
Fred Bado, director of Community Development, admitted that he did not think that travel costs were part of the contract.
There was also a question as to whether the city could recoup funds from a collapsed pier at Castle Point.
Resident Lane Bajardi brought up the question of liability to the council. “Could the city get some money back from the professionals who actually did this work only to see it crumble into the river?” Bajardi asked.
Bado said the collapse was due to a violent storm last April and added, “As to alleged engineering problem or oversight, we did not find that.”
The city was requesting $550,000 to $440,000 in grants to aid in the rebuilding process and is still attempting to get the money. In the meantime, England said via email that he and Bado “are moving forward in trying to remedy this condition.”
Not so fast
An ordinance to eliminate the title of Deputy Chief from the Fire Department’s organizational table was changed to allow Deputy Chief Blohm to keep his job. The council changed the ordinance to grandfather in Blohm, who would have otherwise been forced into demotion by the original ordinance. The council passed the amended resolution. As it stands, Blohm is expected to be Hoboken’s last Deputy Fire Chief.
For the people
The council was scheduled to vote on a resolution adopting new rules for proceedings, but it is being held up by concerns of some of the council, namely Zimmer and Mason.
The main point of the resolution was to figure out when to conduct the public portion of the meeting. The public portion has moved from the beginning of the meeting to the end of the meeting, which sometimes last more than four hours. Council members are concerned that some residents can’t wait until eleven p.m. to voice their opinions to the council.
Cammarano said, “It’s getting later and later and the budget is a concern of everybody’s; we have this SWAT business is on everybody’s mind – it’s serious – and we can’t take a vote on bylaws.”
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