Monday, February 26, 2018

MSV Premium digs in for Hoboken accountability and good government

So the question is will you join the fight and support at a minimum government accountability?

The stakes are nothing less. With the latest Hoboken City Hall "sham" revealed, Hoboken stands on the precipice of seeing City Hall reduced to a Hudco bad government principality in practice at best or at worst, an outright banana republic.

Many are calling the law firm arrangement seen in the broken promise of Mayor Bhalla's law firm contract unprecedented in the Mile Square City's history.

It's that bad based on the early reactions to the uncorked details of Mayor Ravi Bhalla's moonlighting law firm employment contract. It's placed Hoboken government in a crisis of confidence setting it up for failures, massive conflicts of interest and worse.

We're not talking about the typical political sleazy broken promises by cynical and craven politicians either. This fat cat law firm deal in the mayor's office stands to see Hoboken abused through the back door using the powers of the mayor and legal contracts near and far, both inside and outside of the Mile Square City.

Stand up for Hoboken as MSV has done for more than eight years, reporting on the good, the bad and the very ugly. To those subscribers who offered renewals in 2018, thank you.

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$75 or more if you want to stand for decency, accountability and good government in Hoboken.

Mayor Ravi Bhalla stands to reap a cool million or more with outside law firm contract

Ravi Bhalla makes the Hoboken mayor job the "side hustle" 

City Council faces dilemma Wednesday with special meeting how to address "for sale" sign over Hoboken City Hall and the Mayor's office

Hoboken's new mayor Ravi Bhalla makes Hoboken the "side hustle" as his law firm employment contract details emerged late Friday.

The new Bhalla law firm employment deal reveals he has unlimited sales potential to make it rain mega dollars, far more than the salary in serving as Hoboken's full time mayor.

Unprecedented "side hustle" deal in the Hoboken mayor's office

City Council President Ruben Ramos among other political observers have called the new arrangement unprecedented in Hoboken history. Criticism is spiking across the Mile Square City as the public learns of the moonlighting details.

A rain man type legal sales agreement with Lavery, Selvaggi, Abromitis & Cohen, PC shows Ravi Bhalla has the potential of annual earnings into the hundreds of thousands of dollars or more, far more than the almost $117,000 annual he'll be paid to serve as Hoboken's full time mayor.

In the mayoral campaign race last year, Ravi Bhalla was questioned about conflicts with his law firm clients who held business interests in Hoboken while a partner at Florio Perrucci Steinhardt & Cappelli. He'd later issue a promise to end his legal work with the firm and work full time as Hoboken mayor.

Not a month into office and Mayor Ravi Bhalla is seen replacing that legal employment with another firm which will likely prove far more lucrative and viewed by many inside and outside the legal community for its massive conflict potentials spiked on steroids.

As seen below, the two page employment agreement contains two different creation dates, February 16th and February 22nd bringing into question when it was executed. An earlier version not written for public consumption may yet require disclosure.

Although the initial Ravi Bhalla annual salary has been reported as $60,000, the unlimited upside in sales commissions being a "rainmaker" for the new law firm is uncapped.

There is no baseline for payment indicated anywhere in the contract for "mentoring" associate lawyers or providing what Bhalla calls strategic "advice" to his new legal employer.

In addition, the law firm contract is already in effect, backdated and began - on February 1st!

The Hoboken public is only beginning to get wind of the enormous and unprecedented "side hustle" of having a full time mayor paid to do legal work inherently at risk of conflicts of interest or worse.

One long time political observer who saw Bhalla's political climb over two terms before former Mayor Dawn Zimmer made a secret deal to endorse him said of his council career, "He voted on city business on matters with clear conflicts until someone would raise the problem with his law firm after the fact. What makes anyone think that's not going to happen with hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table?"

The Hoboken law department is slated to have its Corporation Counsel act as a clearing house of sorts. The same political observer ridiculed and slammed such an arrangement as ludicrous.

Several lawyers have commented to MSV about the unprecedented Bhalla legal rainmaking deal describing it as "brazen," "shocking," "worse than thought" and a "sham."

One attorney who elected not to speak on the record due to retaliation concerns described the Hoboken Corporation Counsel review of any Bhalla law firm deal as a "sham conflicts check. The discerning of conflicts in referrals is almost impossible after the fact. It sets up an untenable environment."

With emphasis, they added, "The arrangement is unenforceable and a ruse."

Last year's Bhalla campaign reports also reveal the current Corporation Counsel, Brian Aloia contributed at least $600 to Ravi Bhalla's mayoral campaign. The amount is within NJ limits but immediately places into question another conflict for proposed self-enforcement on the Bhalla law firm rainmaking deal. By extension, this places the entire Hoboken Law Department in an equally compromised position.

Other members of the public are more critical. At the last City Council meeting, uptown resident Brian Murray slammed the revelation of an outside law firm job for the new mayor. "You have to assume Peter Cammarano is somewhere scratching his head saying, 'Why didn't I think of this? How about I don't take the money behind closed doors, I take it right in front of everyone,' to howls of laughter from the council audience. Later he spoke after a developer of the proposed downtown boutique hotel mockingly saying he should contact Ravi Bhalla's law firm if he wants to see the proposal move forward.

On a Hudson County Facebook page, Murray would succinctly add in the comments, "Hoboken for sale."

Cammarano, the last lawyer to hold the position of Hoboken mayor was sent to federal prison for accepting bribes totaling $25,000 for zoning considerations and arrested three weeks after he took office.

City Council Dilemma

The Hoboken City Council finds itself in a dilemma. A majority of the council already expressed sharp concerns posing 26 questions to Mayor Bhalla in a resolution upon learning of the law firm employment deal.

With the contract rich details emerging and the money tree shaking in front of Bhalla every waking moment, the City Council is forced to sound the alarm and seek more answers on the legality and ethics of Bhalla's behavior.

How they will do so is a challenging question the public may learn more about on Wednesday.

The legal contract Ravi Bhalla constructed puts Hoboken in an immediate crisis of confidence reflected with this tweet by Councilman Mike DeFusco who was a top challenger in last year's mayoral race.

Bhalla campaign spokesman Rob Horowitz declined by email to comment on which is the side hustle of Mayor Ravi Bhalla's two jobs.

Talking Ed Note: This contract is clearly misstated and likely not the original one executed as it's dated February 16th on the first page and February 22nd on the second. Clearly, this contract was "redone" for public relations purposes. Its terms don't make any sense outside of the big bucks rainmaking inducements.

Of note, there's little public applause for Mayor Ravi Bhalla pulling a "bait and switch" breaking his promise to the Hoboken public and creating a crisis of confidence or worse one month into his term.

Bhalla is telling people he didn't break any promise even as he stands to profit many times over his full time salary to serve as Hoboken mayor with his new law firm employer.

Hoboken, we have a problem.

Related: Mayor Ravi Bhalla issued a lengthy statement Monday where he denied he had a second job. He claims he is only working in Hoboken and disavowed the existence his employment contract with the new law firm agreement executed only days ago effective February 1st.

More to come.

Union Dry Dock action on tap before City Council

Official release:


Mayor Ravi S. Bhalla has called for a special meeting of the Hoboken City Council on Wednesday, February 28th to consider authorizing the acquisition of the former Union Dry Dock property for the purpose of completing the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway within Hoboken and for public open space and recreation. The meeting will begin with a closed session at 6:30pm in City Council chambers.

The City hired an appraiser which determined that the property has a value of $11,630,000. The Council will consider an ordinance on first reading to authorize the acquisition of the property through a negotiated purchase in the amount not to exceed $11,630,000 or by condemnation if a negotiated purchase can not be effectuated.

"Our community's decades-long vision for a continuous, public waterfront park is finally within reach," said Mayor Ravi S. Bhalla. "I thank all of the elected officials and advocates who have put so much time and energy into protecting our waterfront and look forward to completing the transformation of our formerly industrial waterfront into a world-class park system."

Talking Ed Note: The mayor's office and Mayor Ravi Bhalla have repeatedly called Union Dry Dock "a victory" but the truth is the situation remains more in limbo with NY Waterway holding the upper hand. Giving the public false expectations is apparently the new law of the land. 

It will take some time to see what is tenable with the Union Dry Dock property but the City of Hoboken isn't in the best position, public optimistic  pronouncements aside.

Additionally, the acquisition costs of the property if possible would be dwarfed by the additional compensation costs such as moving the business.