Tonight's People for Open Government meeting promises to be important in several respects. First, Hoboken has been making strides and with new leadership at City Hall appears positioned to do more in the near future with a working City Council majority - something POG has been working toward over years.
At the same time POG maintains its watchdog status over local government including the six month old administration and its coalition on the City Council. It's both a required and an essential oversight but questions are now present over both recent action and inaction, threatening to split its members, and placing question marks around its credibility.
Recent municipal contracts awarded to Councilman Ravi Bhalla's law firm from Newark and Union City are fair game for evaluation but eyebrows were raised when a letter was issued from the group pointing out the ethical concerns before a conversation with the Councilman took place. Last Tuesday, the Councilman indicated he had reached out to the organization but for reasons unknown had not heard any reply.
Additional questions concerning the letter's adoption when it wasn't clear how the letter was generated, who authorized it, why it was posted on the pro-Mason propaganda site of Hoboken411 to the initial exclusion of local credible news sites and why other names were dredged up including the Mayor and other City Council members who have no role in Councilman Bhalla's law firm are yet unclear.
The explosion surrounding Councilwoman Beth Mason's ELEC filings last Tuesday (reported on the Jersey Journal, Hoboken Patch.com, the Hudson Reporter, and MSV) after Councilman Bhalla's morning press conference raising questions on her late ELEC filing from last spring's mayoral run has not produced any similar letter from POG. This even after ELEC came out last week with point blank comments on the Jersey Journal stating street money distributions were problematic. No revelations in Beth Mason's ELEC report has dispelled their fundamental concern on violations, as a fact her comments have further cemented them.
POG is now in the uncomfortable position of trying to balance expectations of its members, some of whom still are campaigning behind the scenes to protect Councilwoman Mason in the midst of her ever changing excuses for illegal street money distributions. The Hudson Reporter story over the weekend stated she will investigate her campaign to identify why street money was distributed. This after she added her concern for "paying" the "campaign workers."
While Councilman Bhalla faces legitimate ethical questions on obtaining municipal contracts outside of Hoboken, no one of note claims these are illegal. At the same time, Councilwoman Beth Mason's ELEC filing is an open matter only in the depth and to the extent of the legal violations. The outstanding question of her campaign's actions speak to the basic integrity of the electoral process in Hoboken.
Similar issues have also arisen on the massive absentee ballots generated by the self-proclaimed "King of Absentee Ballots" - Frank "Pupie" Raia in the 4th ward BoE election last month. Although there are whispers about all of this, no one to this point has stated the obvious: is Hoboken ready to have fair elections?
POG must weigh all of the known factors as an election for 4th ward Council approaches in November. How they choose to respond will play a significant role on expectations for future local elections impacting all of Hoboken and the basic fundamental rights of its voters. Short of that, it risks losing the credibility of its oversight role gained in the crucible of public opinion.
Related: Grafix Avenger brought to light some details on the absentee ballot problem just yesterday in a post titled: ELEC-less.
Talking Ed Note: An invitation for a statement/reply has been emailed and will be added here or posted as a separate story.