On the ethics referenda

Dear Editor:

As a longtime advocate of ethics reform in Jersey City, I am concerned about the bait-and-switch advice coming from City Hall, specifically the office of Corporation Counsel, and how he appears willing to subvert both the public initiative process and the electorate, jeopardizing voter-sponsored ordinances regarding “municipal employment salary” and “pay-to-play” campaign finance reform. Mr. Matsikoudis’ new (and 11th hour) re-interpretation of the rules for public initiatives now threatens to violate the will of thousands of petition signers, who have expressed their desire to see these measures presented to Municipal Council, or, alternately, on the ballot come November.

Beginning in mid-2007, I was among several activist citizens who met multiple times with City Clerk Robert Byrne to learn the mechanics of the public initiative process. And Mr. Byrne regularly relied upon and cited legal expertise from Counsel’s office. Together, we came to an explicit and shared understanding of the rules, parameters, signature thresholds, and calendars for a public initiative. And with our petitions vetted, in content and format, we then embarked on the task of soliciting broad voter support from across the city. Throughout, we coordinated our steady progress with Mr. Byrne.

So turning in all the requisite paperwork several weeks ago was genuinely exciting, and last Tuesday brought greater elation when Mr. Byrne called Steven Fulop – Ward E councilman and an ardent proponent of both initiative measures – that everything had passed muster, and would be presented to Municipal Council. Good news traveled fast.

But the joy was short-lived when Mr. Matsikoudis raised a last-minute, “Oh, did I forget to mention this before?” objection to the “municipal employment salary” measure. The verbatim textual information had been circulated to him months before, and only now – on the literal eve of Mr. Byrne’s formal certification – did a potential problem become conveniently apparent.

Leaving the legal arguments to more astute minds, I will simply observe that Mr. Byrne is an honorable public servant of the highest order, beyond reproach, who now is being asked to bear another department’s failings, and their (seemingly) politically-timed change of mind. Sadly, Mr. Matsikoudis appears to have sought cover behind Mr. Byrne’s sterling reputation, to the diminution of all involved.

No matter. These ballot initiatives deserve to be heard (and voted upon), and shall, despite the current maneuverings. The people’s will is clear, as I have witnessed while gathering many signatures this Spring and Summer. Just this weekend, as insurance, I collected hundreds more signatures at sun-baked Grove Street plaza and rain-swept Journal Square, registering nearly 75 new voters to boot. The winds of reform are howling, and a change is surely gonna come.

Andrew C. Hubsch


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