Thursday, June 13, 2013

HHA counsel contract rejected 4-3

Two resolutions returned by HHA Chairman Rob Davis at the direction of the Board Secretary Carmelo Garcia to re-appoint Charles Daglian failed in consecutive 4-3 votes.

Reform members Mello, Lincoln, Stuiver and Burrell (via phone) voted against the re-appointment.
Stuiver called the act of bringing back the resolutions illegal.

Garcia read a legal review from an external lawyer on redoing a motion to reconsider or reintroducing a motion.

But the vote was on resolutions voted down at the prior meeting. Garcia's reading of a legal motion being returned was inert to the failed resolutions being reintroduced at the meeting.

A RFQ process will again be restarted. Law firms need to be given accurate information on the application process as in the recent past, some have not.

HHA ED Carmelo Garcia instructs HHA Chairman Rob Davis on how to present the legal contracts again
leading into Thursday night's meeting.

Talking Ed Note: A fast one failed - for the fifth time.  Will ED Carmelo Garcia get the message finally and allow another choice to be vetted through the RFP process or will he act insubordinately to the board?  He complains about the extra cost incurred of $1,000 a month but fails to note his obstinance is preventing the HHA Board from moving ahead replacing Charles Daglian who has clearly lost the support of the body.

Vision 20/20 was a topic of public speakers who were shown brochures of buildings from West Coast cities by the Board Secretary Carmelo Garcia.

Photocopies of what Garcia called a plan was announced and he said it was available but none was offered.  In a sidebar, the Director offered the latest annual audit report.  When received, it will be made available.

Complaints were made often and loud to the (reform) commissioners for not seeing approved Vision 20/20 at council meetings. The HHA residents don't appear to understand no funding has been approved for the first building and that no process has been completed on behalf of the full City of Hoboken.  They've been led to believe there is political reasons holding up Vision 20/20 without any idea on what constitutes a true redevelopment process.

At one point, commissioner Dave Mello tried to explain other buildings in town going up currently have undergone years long processes. The answer was not met receptively among a group of the approximately three dozen residents in attendance.

At the end of the meeting, commissioner Eduardo Gonzalez was nominated and unanimously elected Vice President of the HHA Board of Commissioners.

Mayoral candidate Ruben Ramos stopped by during the meeting and watched a portion of the proceedings.

Guest of the Stable: Kurt Gardiner tackles HudCo's proposed 10% tax hike for Hoboken

Last week, the spending juggernaut know as Hudco supposedly did Hoboken a huge favor by hosting a Freeholder 2013 Budget workshop meeting in Hoboken's City Hall. Mayor Turner of Weehawken and Mayor Zimmer of Hoboken attended and politely expressed their concern over the tax increase and overall expenditures. They have to be polite since they have to work with the county. As a private citizen I don't have to be so polite so here goes my stance on behalf of the Hoboken taxpayer....

Kurt Gardiner Remarks on
2013 Hudson County Budget
Kurt Gardiner is a potential candidate for Freeholder in 2014

I am writing this as a resident and taxpayer of Hoboken to speak out on the 2013 proposed Hudson County budget first revealed to the public on May 7th 2013. The initial version presented has an approximate tax increase on Hoboken residents of 10% versus prior year or an increase of about $5 million in the levy inflicted upon Hoboken residents. It is time to say enough is enough and that Hoboken in my opinion and that of other taxpaying residents I have spoken to, it has been taxed too much by the County. This is especially true due to the scant level services it receives in return on a levy which in 2013 is projected to be over $50 million raised from Hoboken residents.

Hoboken although considered relatively affluent in terms of property values and income in relation to the rest of the County, it was by far the hardest hit of all the municipalities and is still struggling to recover from Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath. A FEMA survey of Hudson County shows Hoboken in terms of the number of properties sustained 97% of the county's flood damages, next was North Bergen at 1.3%. The other municipalities each sustained less than 1% of the total damage to the county. Not everyone in Hoboken is rich and there is still a substantial middle class in Hoboken given the number of affordable housing options and many of them are still recovering. Sandy as storms go really hurt Hoboken and this tax increase is like pouring sea salt into those open wounds. 

As a progressive I don’t expect Hoboken to get every dollar back for the money it is taxed. The County provides many services to the poor and elderly that are disproportionally in other areas of the County than Hoboken and that need them more. I get that. While Hoboken certainly benefits from the County Jail keeping criminals locked up and mental health programs and facilities that amount does not come close satisfying the $50 million plus per year that Hoboken residents put in. 

Mayor Dawn Zimmer, leading by example and and making tough but smart choices has reduced taxes more than 10% in her 4 year tenure but the County has given Hoboken taxpayer a raise of just 10% in one year and an overall increase of around 20% over the same time period. To simply blame the increase on increasing Hoboken property values and on the State Formula is not enough. In a time where local and state governments have all learned to really tighten their belts and show some fiscal restraint, Hudson County still operates in a bubble of zero accountability and as a county jobs patronage mill oblivious to call for a more service based approach. Nothing embodies that more than the recent attempt to hire Anthony Romano political ally Michelle Russo, wife of former Hoboken Mayor and convicted felon into a Custodial Services job for which she had no experience. Thankfully, responsible Hoboken residents got wind of that patronage hire attempt and the county backed off. How many other such County appointments still fly under the radar? Things that make you go hmm.

Other examples of County waste or inappropriate allocation of funds include $12 million for the County Golf Course. In a time with a deep recession an expenditure of this magnitude is unconscionable but spend it the county did. A more appropriate allocation would have been to help Hoboken with the privatization of the HUMC Hospital when it was in jeopardy of closing and plummeting Hoboken into bankruptcy. While Anthony Romano’s allies on the City Council Minority, Tim Occhipinti, Mike Russo, Terry Castellano, and Beth “I’ll sue you and your little dog too” Mason and were obstructing the deal with the only legitimate bidder from getting accomplished, where was the County? Surely since over 50% of the patients at the HUMC at the time were not from Hoboken and the county should have had a vested interest. Right? The answer was the County was nowhere to be found during that time of crisis.

Those are just a few examples from the past.

More importantly: What should the county do going forward? ...

The fact is that there is still much bloat in the current budget and while this can’t all be addressed in one year it is time to start a change in the culture. There is at least one Freeholder, Bill O’Dea that in earnest is looking for both costs savings and realized revenue to reduce the current levy for all Hudson County taxpayers of which Hoboken is just a part. Where are the other Freeholders including Anthony Romano who represents Hoboken in leading the charge to smartly reduce expenditures? Both the executive and the remainder of the legislative branch need to step up and get results.

Anthony Romano, unlike Mayor Zimmer has yet to speak out to the Hoboken taxpayer against this colossal increase via a letter to the editor or a public statement. So far he has produced nothing. I know Romano is not a big internet guy but not even writing something in the Hoboken Reporter is an insult to the Hoboken taxpayer. Hoboken comprises approximately 7.9% of the population but pays close to 17% of the taxes and would in my estimation be lucky to see 2-3% back in services. I find this to be an utter lack of leadership from my elected Freeholder. Perhaps from his subsidized Marine View Apartment that could go to a more worthy recipient of the middle class, Anthony Romano literally and figuratively looks down on those who foot the bill. That is admittedly speculation on my part. Romano’s silence on this matter is implicit support for pillaging of the Hoboken taxpayer.

Other areas where the County could help Hoboken would be additional grant money for infrastructure improvements like Sinatra Park repairs, park acquisition for the Henkel Site which would produce real ball fields, Washington Street (which is no longer a county road but gets a ton of county use as Hoboken is the #2 tourist destination in the State of New Jersey), help for the Jubilee Center, Hoboken Shelter, and other worthwhile organizations that are struggling for Federal and State funds. Moving monies into these areas in future budgets would help offset that imbalance that I and other Hoboken taxpayers see in the current situation.

Opportunities for further reduction include tighter monitoring of employee overtime and filling of vacancies (aka a hiring freeze or a downright RIF). I honestly wasn’t shocked to hear that 8 employees in the Department of Corrections consistently get tons of overtime very year and they are the same employees year after year. Remember Patrick Ricciardi who amassed tons of OT for years in Hoboken and pled guilty to data theft? This smells of favoritism and needs to be investigated. I liked Bill O’Dea’s suggestions of a committee to review all vacancies as long as he is on it. As the only Freeholder who in my view is a true fiscal hawk (which is Hudson County is actually a good thing) having him the chair would yield desirable results in my estimation. Constituent Services is a redundant department and can be eliminated with improved communication protocols and the adoption of a 311 system. The elimination of that department would not mean everyone would not necessarily lose their job, just be redeployed.

I am perturbed that possible employee headcount reductions were not mentioned as a possible solution to reducing costs to the County taxpayer. The fact the County would take that off the table limits its ability to make more cost savings and shows that it is operating in a vacuum where money seemingly has an endless supply. We all know that is not the case. Employee headcount reductions should be a part of these savings.Having a county job should be a privilege and not an entitlement but more and more the entitlement attitude seems to permeate in Hudson County. It cheapens the whole notion of civil service. 

The other aspect of the equation that hurts not only the Hoboken taxpayer but Weehawken and Secaucus is the implementation of use of pilots. Hoboken and Jersey City were listed as two cities making extensive use of long term pilots is a report on New Jersey Tax Abatements written in 2010 by State Comptroller Michael Boxer. Jersey City in particular stands out as quoted in the 2010 report:

“Jersey City currently exempts approximately $2 billion of property value. In view of the city’s general tax rate of $6 per $100 of assessed value (6%), Jersey City is not collecting approximately $120 million is property taxes on the exempted property. In 2009, Hudson County received approximately 25% of the property taxes collected in the city. Using that as a baseline, the county did not collect approximately $30 million from Jersey City due to the city’s abatements. While the county still receives some amount through it 5% portion of PILOTS it does not make up for that $30 million in lost revenue. Instead, the other municipalities in the county make up for those dollars”. 

This year that would be Weehawken, Secaucus and Hoboken. Just to be clear the PILOTS in Jersey City and Hoboken were not created by the currently elected officials in Hoboken and Jersey City but they have choices going forward about how to handle PILOTS. I know we have a reform mayor reform in Hoboken that understands this and I am hopeful for fairer use PILOTS in Jersey City with newly Mayor. Time will tell.

We know life isn’t fair but something has to be done about PILOTS and the State formulation going forward. Since that is not in direct control of Hudson County, it is up to the county to do their best to help make up the difference. There is a overcapacity built in to our current corrections and juvenile facilities that needs serious examination for example. Operational audits from a respected firm or firms would go along way to finding additional savings opportunities without jeopardizing services. 

Again this isn’t about Hoboken getting back dollar for dollar, it is a about a better balance. Expenditures can be decreased and revenues realized. At the very least a hiring freeze and possible employee headcount reductions should be a part of it. It is high time Hoboken taxpayers stopped getting the short end of the “Stick” and have leadership that will understand the Hoboken taxpayer. I can’t wait for 2014 and it is not just about me necessarily running for office. I just want better representation for Hoboken. 

City partnering with Dept. of Energy, NJ utilities to develop resilient electric grid

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Thursday June 13, 2013

City of Hoboken

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Community: City of Hoboken, US Dept of Energy, NJ Board of Public Utilities & PSE&G Partner to Develop Resilient Electric Grid

The City of Hoboken, U.S. Department of Energy, N.J. Board of Public Utilities, and PSE&G are partnering to design an energy resilient “smart grid” to improve Hoboken's resiliency to power outages.

In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability is supporting Sandia National Laboratories to aid the City of Hoboken in boosting the resiliency of its electric grid. This critical partnership brings the deep expertise of the national labs to address the critical needs of our nation's electric grid.

"We are honored to partner with the Department of Energy, Board of Public Utilities, and PSE&G to make Hoboken a model for resilient electric grids using 21st century technology," said Mayor Dawn Zimmer. "Through this partnership, Hoboken will build on its proud history of innovation in technology by becoming one of the first non-military applications of Sandia’s design methodology."

“We are proud of the reliability of our system, which has been nationally recognized,” said Ralph LaRossa, PSE&G president and COO. “But the extreme weather in the past two years calls for extraordinary measures to harden our systems. PSE&G is pleased to support this unique effort to improve the resiliency of the city’s critical infrastructure. This effort is a perfect complement to our proposed Energy Strong filing, which would protect Hoboken’s substations from the type of water damage we had during Sandy.”

“Today’s agreement is yet another step in the State’s continuing efforts to address safety and reliability concerns related to the delivery of electric and gas service to New Jersey ratepayers,” said Bob Hanna, President of the N.J. Board of Public Utilities. “This collaboration will enable us to assess the potential benefits and costs associated with implementing distributed generation and smart-grid technologies to improve energy reliability and resiliency in the Hoboken service area and to apply the lessons learned to other cities and towns across New Jersey.”

Sandia will bring their Energy Surety Design Methodology to partner with the City of Hoboken, N.J. Board of Public Utilities, PSE&G, Greener by Design and other stakeholders to develop a comprehensive plan to meet the critical needs of Hoboken in future events such as storms and other disruptions to the electric grid.

The design methodology uses advanced, smart grid technologies and distributed and renewable generation and storage resources as a way to improve the reliability, security, and resiliency of the electric grid.

Signing event remarks from Mayor Dawn Zimmer:

“Today, as we sign our energy agreement, we officially launch an energy resiliency partnership between the City of Hoboken, the U.S. Deparment of Energy, Sandia National Labs, PSE&G and the N.J. Board of Public Utilities.

Thank you so much to our DOE representatives, Ravi Gorur and Dan Ton, Ralph LaRossa, President & COO of PSE&G, and Robert Hanna, President of the BPU for being here with us today and making a commitment to collaborate on this smart grid energy project that could help to ensure communities like Hoboken are safer through future storms.

Thank you also to my Resiliency Team members Stephen Marks and Brandy Forbes and the Greener by Design team headed by Adam Zellner for working so hard on this crucial project.

As we all heard, Hoboken was devastated by Hurricane Sandy, so when HUD Secretary Donovan and Bill Bryan from the Department of Energy came to visit our City, I shared our residents’ challenges and eagerly offered Hoboken as a learning laboratory for energy resiliency. I have had the honor of serving on Secretary Donovan’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, and I want to thank Michael Passante and his team for being here with us, and I thank them all for choosing Hoboken as an energy learning center. They wanted to do a pilot program for a smaller scale City impacted by Sandy, and Hoboken was a perfect match. After all that we went through, I was more than happy to partner with them on this exciting project.

I also want to give a huge thank you to Governor Christie for supporting this project through the BPU’s involvement. Ultimately, I am determined to implement a smart grid and microgrid system for Hoboken. The State and the BPU are very important partners for this hefty energy goal of mine since it could involve the need for some adjustments to the regulatory process in order to achieve our objectives. Thank you to Senator Menendez and Congressman Sires for their support of this project – they wanted to be here but they are in Washington today.

Finally, I want to give a very special thank you to the senior from Church Towers who made me even more determined to fight harder for Hoboken. One evening in the midst of Sandy, I went knocking on doors to bring food and tell residents about how Brad Paisley’s chef was going to be cooking up a storm in Church Square Park. He heard about Hoboken on the news and drove up from Pennsylvania with a truck filled with food and rolled out his portable kitchen.

This senior thanked me for the food, but asked incredulously in tears about the management of her building: “How could they leave us completely in the dark? Look, not even the exit sign is lit up,” she exclaimed. “I am afraid to go down the stairs because I could fall.” As she cried in my arms, I assured her I would fight to find a solution. With her story and so many others like hers in mind, I am proud that a little over seven months after Sandy, we have created an energy partnership and agreement that will help to keep everyone safer through the next storm.

As we stand here today, in this basement conference room that was the pulsing heart of an emergency command center, I want to briefly explain what we mean by a smart energy grid and how it could help our community.

Having a smart grid means designing an electrical grid that keeps the power on through the storm for our most essential services. Our first responders at the Police and Fire Departments and here at City Hall must have power through the storms so they can effectively respond to all of the emergencies. It means keeping the power on at Hoboken University Medical Center so residents have an emergency center open and available when that emergency situation strikes. It means keeping North Hudson Sewerage Authority operational so that our flood pump keeps pumping out flood waters and our sewage can be treated instead of backing up onto our streets.

Having a smart grid means making sure the hallway lights and exit signs are lit for my seniors who may not have the resources to evacuate. This smart grid, possibly connected to a microgrid system, could power emergency LED hallway lights and the community rooms where seniors gathered every day to share meals and shelter together through Hurricane Sandy. It could possibly power the elevators to make one trip down in the morning and one up at night so seniors are not stuck in their apartments waiting for the power to go back on.

It could power the fire suppression system so we can avoid the unbelievably dangerous situation we had throughout Hoboken: Apartments filled with candles, no fire suppression or alert system, and irresponsible property owners who failed to even implement fire watches.

Build stronger, and yes, communities like Hoboken could safely shelter in place. During Hurricane Sandy I was on a conference call with President Obama together with other State and community leaders, and the President was discussing the need to move people into shelters. I pointed out that in urban communities like Hoboken we needed to shelter in place because most people simply would not go to the shelters. President Obama listened and got us generators as quickly as he could, and now we are building on the sheltering in place approach with this project.

This energy resiliency partnership is an essential component of a comprehensive approach designed to protect Hoboken. Our plan includes more flood pumps along our waterfront, large detention basins to retain rainwater under land we are trying to buy for parks, and expanded implementation of city-wide green infrastructure to capture rain water in every way possible. It also includes a series of protective barriers and hardening of existing buildings to protect Hoboken at the north and south from future storm surges.

Since Sandy, Hoboken has had several major flood events. Unfortunately, when heavy rains and high tide come at the same time, we get flooded, including our PSE&G substations. We have applied for grant funding for our comprehensive flood plan, and I am very glad that PSE&G’s Energy Strong program includes a proposed action plan for Hoboken’s substations. I am a huge fan of that plan.

As I participated in a crisis simulation workshop at a UN Conference on Resiliency a few weeks ago, I reflected on that fact that in addition to getting funding for the pumps, ensuring that Hoboken is energy resilient has to be my top priority for both our residents and our businesses that were so hard hit by the loss of power and the flooding. One way or another, I am determined to get this done by some combination of grants and public-private partnerships.”

Hoboken Housing Authority cleared in investigation of $100,000 federal stimulus expenditures

The odd trumpeting of HUD's Office of Investigation unit's examination into three areas related to expenditures on the federal stimulus has been the subject of some extracurricular spin in recent days. MSV obtained the report.  Here's the three items related to the investigation in the May report:

No one is arrested on the HUD investigations of $100,000 in federal stimulus fund expenditures.
Based on the political operative commenting here and crowing elsewhere, you'd think it's akin to earning a medal.
Tonight a definite round of law breaking is on tap when HHA counsel Charles Daglian will see a vote if
Director Carmelo Garcia has his way with five attempts to ram him down his boss' re: the HHA board's throats.

Talking Ed Note: It's unclear what prompted the investigation unit of HUD to look into how stimulus funds were spent. This clearly goes back several years when the almost trillion dollar package was passed in 2009 and has nothing to do with the controversy over spending more than $300,000 on elevator floors.  Or the documentation-less Vision 20/20 project.

After celebrating there's no convictions on expenditures from the federal stimulus program (it's unclear how much employment stimulus the expenditures created) let's move on to an illegal appointment again of the HHA Director's personal consiglieri - for the fifth time.

How is a contractor in the form of Director Carmelo Garcia respecting the wishes of his employers by attempting to circumvent the obvious will of that body which has repeatedly rejected his insistence Charles Daglian remain as the HHA counsel?

Is the HHA counsel contract under Carmelo Garcia some kind of lifetime appointment? 

On the matter of law, on basic common sense and ethics 101, NO HHA commissioner should be voting for the fifth time to reappoint Charles Daglian as HHA counsel.  To those who will vote for him again (illegally mind you) don't you have an ounce of self-respect for yourself or the oversight responsibility of being a HHA commissioner?

How does commissioner Eduard Gonzalez explain that on the campaign trail and his friends at the Quality of Life Coalition?  He's a candidate for the City Council on the Ruben Ramos mayoral ticket.

Had enough?

6:00 pm at 220 Adams Street tonight if you want to see the law broken in plain sight.  

Vision 20/20 eye chart courtesy of Grafix Avenger