Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Hackensack voted, but did the winning team tell us to "keep the change?"

On May 14, 2013 the residents of Hackensack overwhelmingly voted for "change."  Some of that "change" was expected to come through open government and an end to back room deals rewarding insiders.  But is that what we are getting?

New council hires Municipal Prosecutor and Assistant Municipal Judge

At their reorganization meeting on July 1, 2013, the council hired Frank Catania, Jr. as the Municipal Prosecutor.  As The Record noted in their July 4, 2013 article Catania is a longtime friend and business partner of CFC insider Anthony Rottino. 

At their August 20, 2013 meeting, the new council hired Richard Takvorian to serve as the temporary Assistant Municipal Judge.  The Scoop has previously noted that the Takvorian family, allies of the CFC team, had donated in total $3,600 to their 2013 campaign.

Resolution 330-13 authorizing the hire of Richard Takvorian indicates that the City Clerk will maintain a copy of his contract for public inspection. Though I requested the contract governing Mr. Takvorian's employment on three separate occasions, I have been advised by City Clerk Debra Heck that no such contract exists and that Mr. Takvorian was "hired by resolution."  Resolution 330-13 does not indicate how Takvorian will be compensated or outline his duties.  I ask you the reader, is this open and transparent government?

New council hires Director of Economic Development

According to the CFC platform, they pledged to create a "Redevelopment Commission" to oversee development and negotiate with prospective developers.  This commission was to include elected officials, residents, and development experts.  In an abrupt change of direction, the team decided to hire a single individual to serve as the Director of Economic Development.  

It is no secret that Hackensack is in dire need of economic redevelopment, Main Street is a stretch of vacant store fronts and businesses that are barely surviving.  How many more barber shops, nail salons, and dollar stores can Hackensack accommodate?

With a revamping of planning and zoning having just been completed, and a redevelopment of downtown potentially in sight, a Director of Economic Development can prove to be the hire with the greatest long term implications for the City of Hackensack.  As such, the council should search far and wide to find the most able and qualified candidate, but is that what they have done?

On September 13, the city posted an advertisement for the position of Chief Financial Officer--this listing will run for longer than one month before resumes must be submitted.  On July 8, the city posted a request for qualifications seeking various professional services--this listing ran for ten days before submissions were due.  The advertisement for the position of Director of Economic Development, a position with the potential for serious long term implications for the City of Hackensack, a position to be filled by an individual who can potentially write the legacy of this council, was listed for only five days.  I can only wonder why with a redevelopment plan decades in the making this position so urgently needed to be filled?

I would question if the short notice of the position was perhaps in an effort to intentionally maintain a small applicant pool in favor of a chosen candidate--a CFC insider.  Unfortunately, an identification of the potential applicant pool could not be done as several OPRA requests for a list of applicants, a copy of applications, and a copy of cover letters of interest have been denied by the City of Hackensack.  City Manager Steve LoIacono and City Clerk Debra Heck have both asserted that by advice of counsel applicant information is not subject to OPRA.  However, both New Jersey statutes and Executive Orders dictate that the resumes of unsuccessful candidates will be released with the consent of the candidate and the release of applications, cover letters of interest, and applicant identities are not specified as protected items under the provisions of OPRA.  Will this be the subject of a second round of litigation with the city over an unjust denial of an OPRA request?

I have also requested a copy of Mr. Rottino's employment contract with the city.  I have been advised that no contract exists (yet Mr. LoIacono has indicated that Rottino will be paid $130,000 annually).  For a position that needed to be so urgently filled, here we are a month after hiring a CFC insider and we are without an employment contract.


New council hires Public Relations Consultant

At their August 20, 2013 meeting, the new council hired Write Associates to serve as the city's public relations consultant.  Write Associates served as the campaign strategist for the CFC team.  Several residents have spoken out regarding this hiring citing potential conflicts of interest.  The team has in essence hired their personal cheer leader to represent the city's best interests.  Council Candidate Victor Sasson noted that this hire should represent the interests of the entire city.

Other residents have noted objections stemming from not just the potential conflicting political interests of the council and interests of the city, but the professionalism of Write Associates' Thom Ammirato.  Resident Regina DiPasqua spoke at a council meeting with regard to certain unprofessional communications received from Thom Ammirato.  Regina DiPasqua remarked to The Scoop that in her exchange with Ammirato he was "brash, harsh, and rude," she went on to remark that hopefully "he will not be so judgmental and harsh in his future dealings with the public."  The Scoop has previously noted similar findings.  During campaign season, The Scoop noted that the campaign's public relations consultant alienated and talked down to voters calling some "delusional" and "uninformed." In a most recent exchange with Ammirato, he has informed The Scoop "I do not send press releases to bloggers."   I would think that a council that ran on a platform of honest, open, and inclusive government would want information disseminated to residents in any manner possible.

Resolution 364-13 authorizing the hire of Write Associates indicates that the mayor and council will execute a contract with Write Associates.  Though I requested the contract governing this relationship on three separate occasions, I have been advised by City Clerk Debra Heck that no such contract exists.  


"Keep the Change, buster!"

Now in office for nearly 10 weeks, have you seen sweeping change?  For that matter have you seen, gradual change?  A city press release was published on September 4, 2013 noting some of the changes that this council has put into effect in their first 60 days in office.  Let's take a deeper look.... 

  • Expanding mid-day hours of the City Clerk's office- It is The Scoop's finding the city has stopped the City Clerk and her assistant from taking lunch at the same time. 
  • Closing of the Police Substation- For you math whiz's the savings was .008% of the City Budget.  In plain language a $625 per month rental stopped for a city with a $93,000,000 budget, if we want to call that "savings," you belong in the Public Relations field.  Let's focus our efforts where they belong and stop the litigation that this new council so eloquently politicized as costing MILLIONS. 
  • Establishing a police commission- after reading articles published in The Record I have only seen a list of things Commissioner Sims cannot get involved with, what can he?  Was this just a way to push the candidate who had the public support out of the Deputy Mayor role?
  • Considering the building of a new community center- What are we spending hundreds of thousands at the new Cultural Arts Center for?!
  • Hired a Director of Economic Development- well, I think we addressed this above.
Something not in the press release that Councilman Battaglia added to the list of accomplishments of this new council, the paving of Euclid Avenue. Well..... 




4 comments:

  1. Steve, thank you for finally holding up your end of the bargain and keeping them honest. As you stated here, ten weeks in, and already the team of change is operating much like their predecessors. I voted for John and Kathy because I liked what they stood for. The City we both love spoke loudly and I was excited for the days ahead. And in ten weeks they've just given it all away. At least the last administration's insiders lived in Hackensack and therefore had a stake in its prosperity. If the other slate had swept and created paid city positions for their highest campaign donors, wouldn't Kathy have been the first one calling them out at the meeting? What's worse is that they all apparently lack the political savvy to even comprehend how ridiculous this all looks to the average observer. Perhaps that's why their campaign manager is now on the city payroll. In ten weeks I've gone from proud and optimistic to absolutely dejected, as have some of my neighbors, including some who put CFC lawn signs in their front yard just this past Spring. The council has lost their credibility in what must be record time. Too bad there's not a 90-day return policy.

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  2. All of Euclid Avenue was paved except the block between Summit and Prospect avenues (my block).

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  3. What revamping of planning and zoning? I'm on the zoning board and we have not been revamped.

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    1. State Street Redevelopment Plan? Main Street Rehabilitation Plan? Are these not improvements/changes that affect both planning and zoning?

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