Thursday, December 6, 2012

Full City Council vote in the legal cards for Doyle council appointment

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Superior Court Judge orders vote for council appointment mirroring Hoboken's situation

Hoboken could see a court ordered vote of its City Council if a strikingly similar Newark case where a bruising battle over what constitutes a tie in a council back filling appointment comes to bear.

According to a Newark Patch story, a judge ordered all eight council members to vote on the open Newark council seat appointment.  As in Hoboken, a council member had avoided showing up and invalidated a vote by the city's mayor, Cory Booker, leading to the court intervention.

Jim Doyle addressed the City Council as a citizen earlier this year.  He'll be bach.  

Councilman-in-waiting Jim Doyle will see his turn when a hearing set for later this month in Hudson Superior Court takes place.  Doyle had been appointed when a 4-3 vote was held twice over consecutive meetings in October and the mayor issued an additional vote.  The judge in the Hoboken case initially said five votes were required and he anticipated an application from the City calling for a full vote of the City Council.

Council members Beth Mason and Michael Russo were absent in each of the meetings for the council vote on the appointment.  While Russo claimed through his cousin Terry Castellano a family illness for his convenient absence, Mason has not offered a straight answer but made some limited comment to being out of town.  On the day of the meeting she failed to attend, she was witnessed just hours earlier driving with her daughter in town.

Ironically, after Doyle was ruled needing five affirmative votes, the council meetings have found their mojo with all eight members in attendance.

The question of abstentions has been raised as a means to avoid a 4-4 tie with a decisive vote from Mayor Dawn Zimmer.  According to a Star Ledger story on the eerily similar Newark case, the abstention is counted as a "no" vote:

... Superior Court Judge Dennis Carey III issued an order saying that in the event of four "yes" votes for Speight, Booker would be allowed to cast a vote.

"Courts have held that where a special number of votes is required ... that abstentions, failures to appear and recusals are 'no' votes," said Corporation Counsel Anna Pereira.

Wednesday night the council members who attempted to block the successful sale of the hospital voted down payment to the law firm leading the effort.  Will that be their last taste of obstructive success in a 4-4 deadlocked vote?

Talking Ed Note:  Defeat is so close Beth Mason can almost taste it.  She'll need to share the chalice with Michael Russo along with Tim Occhipinti and Theresa Castellano, her official co-complainants in the latest Mason funded lawsuit against her council colleagues and the people of Hoboken.

Politicos on both side have quietly voiced the inevitability of the Doyle appointment being successfully finalized.  An unconfirmed source says the push to turn the Doyle appointment into a sabotaged legal operation came from both Beth Mason and Michael Russo's mother, Michele. 

Requests to see the lawsuit against Doyle dropped after the severe losses in Hoboken due to the hurricane have fallen on deaf ears and the Hudson Superior Court will have to make the full council fulfill their obligation and vote.

Council differs on free parking plans in December, historic Y renovation nears completion for low income housing

Battle over free parking options brings strains to the fore after the hurricane

A Washington Street parking meter proposal to have all or half of December free to help business failed to pass in a 4-4 vote in the City Council last night.  

The idea sponsored by Councilwoman Terry Castellano at the previous meeting had gone to committee for review and the City went ahead with its alternative December plan for free four hour parking in the municipal garages with a $20 proof of purchase.

The damages from Hurricane Sandy to both the City and residents isn't anywhere near from over but political strains escalated on this and other issues as the legal challenge by MORTe to the earlier council appointment temporarily leaves Councilman-in-waiting Jim Doyle on the sidelines.

(A follow up hearing is scheduled mid-month on the council appointment in Hudson Superior Court.)

An empty council chair awaits court input on the at-large backfill appointment.  

A long discussion on how to aid local business without turning Washington Street into a parking lot led to no consensus.  Castellano insisted her plan would see some abuse but it would be overall beneficial to the businesses downtown.  City planner Steve Marks added to the council wrangle saying free metered parking on Washington Street for the month would not add "one iota" of business.

Councilman Dave Mello proposed an out-of-the-box idea for moving parking revenues to business promotion but the details were unclear and that proposal wasn't explored in the final party line 4-4 vote where the Old Guard council members failed to turn one of the reform oriented members.

Historic Y renovations on verge of completion

In a better alignment of opinion, the city council voted unanimously to grant the resolution request for funding 500K to the YMCA and help them complete residences now under renovation at 13th and Washington St.  The funds do not come from Hoboken's tax revenue but are sourced from a dedicated low income housing account.

Leading into the vote during the hour long discussion, Paul Somerville, President of the Board of Directors along with the Y's tax credit advisor fielded questions from the council. Some floating rumor-mill issues about contractors and architects was cleared up in the hour long discussion.

Councilman Dave Mello who serves on the board of the city's housing authority gave a cogent argument for approving the Y's request, pointing out the city can encourage developers to provide low-income housing but they cannot be forced to do so even with a recent ordinance setting minimums.  He noted the ordinance doesn't guarantee low-income housing units will be built
in the city, whereas the Y's project is almost completed adding 91 low-income housing units.

Some chatter arose over the Hoboken Housing Authority's wall to wall 20-20 plan recently scaled back.  In the end, the discussion wound back to the final need for the Y.  It's set to go fully operation this January completing an almost seven your journey for the historic organization. 

Budget fun and games

Earlier in the meeting, the Old Guard looked to return to one of their favorite pastimes - warring with Mayor Zimmer on simple matters of year end budget line transfers.

Councilman Michael Russo began with his position he is "vehemently" against line item transfers.  In the end, the matter would pass unlike in recent years where the financial issue often taking seconds in other NJ municipalities was tied up in obstructive politics over weeks.

Council President Peter Cunningham summed up the discussion on the line item budget transfers of approximately 150K calling them routine adding "the numbers we're seeing for end of year line item transfers are the smallest we've seen" over years.  He credited those results to the former Finance Director Nick Trasante and the phenomenal work of others in the Administration.

The line item transfer "problem" was quickly forgotten in an 8-0 vote.

No good deed goes unpunished

A "final" 13K bill for the hospital's bankruptcy attorney Okin, Hollander & DeLuca held over from the last meeting failed to obtain one vote among Mason, Occhipinti, Russo and Terry Castellano (MORTe).  

The law firm has successfully achieved the sale of the hospital and staved off bankruptcy for the City but didn't get pre-approval to cut off a legal challenge to the hospital agreement in the spring leading to a 4-4 tie without agreement to pay.

That was the reason given in opposing the 13K payment and stiffing the law firm.  The dissolution of the hospital authority itself was removed from the agenda and pushed to the next meeting.

Talking Ed Note: Councilman-in-waiting James Doyle awaits court direction for a full council vote on his appointment.  Chalk up a win for MORTe for getting in a shot at the bankruptcy firm for its magnificent representation in seeing the hospital sale through and protecting the City from bankruptcy.

Apparently they aren't over it.

Related: Katie Colaneri covered the meeting for Hoboken Patch reporting on the Y receiving 500K for finalization of their almost seven year and $15 million renovation effort.