Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Open and Transparent? Then tell us who your donors are!

The Hackensack Citizens for Change ran a campaign promising open and transparent government.  In their campaign literature they chastised the "leadership [who] has done everything it can to keep information from you."  They also promised that "requests for public records will be honored promptly." Now, I have not exactly been receiving expeditious or amiable records request replies, but that is not the subject of this article.  What about the records you do not need to request?  What about the quarterly reports (available online) that they are required to file by the Campaign Reporting Act?

According to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, continuing political committees have an obligation to file quarterly reports which are to include the receipt and expenditure of funds.  During an election cycle, there are additional reporting requirements.

The Joint Candidates Committee of "LABROSSE CANESTRINO BATTAGLIA SIMS AND GREENMAN CITIZENS FOR CHANGE" filed their 20-day post election filing on June 7, 2013 (as required) with a closing balance of unspent funds in their coffers of $4,322.81.

According to the election compliance manual, the 20-day post election filing must be marked as a final report unless there is a recount, the committee has outstanding debt, or if the candidates were elected to office, have no intention of seeking reelection, and will only use funds in their account to pay expenses associated with holding office.

As seen above, the 20-day post election filing was not declared a final report.  The committee does not have outstanding debt that I can identify in their report.  There was not a recount in this election.  Do the Citizens for Change not intend to run for office again in 2017?  Are they going to use the $4,322.81 in their coffers for the sole purpose of paying expenses associated with holding office?

I doubt it, but ok, I'll go with it....  Until I was provided a copy of an invitation to a "Victory Celebration of the Hackensack Citizens for Change Council Team."  The event was a $250 per person cocktail reception at Bel Posto on June 27, 2013.  The invitation asked that all checks be made payable to "Hackensack Citizens for Change" and was complete with election law disclosures and the disclosure "Paid for by Hackensack Citizens for Change." Further, the proceeds were to support the Hackensack Citizens for Change.

So was the "Victory Celebration" event a success?  Did they raise a lot of money?  Were there a lot of donors present who were later hired by the city or awarded lucrative contracts?  It would be impossible to answer any of these very important questions when the Citizens for Change have not filed their July 15, October 15, or January 15 quarterly filings. I have also been unable to identify a new committee or PAC that has been established under the name Hackensack Citizens for Change to receive the funds from this cocktail reception.

What appears to have been the correct thing for the Citizens for Change to do would be to either disburse their funds to a PAC (or other candidate/committee) or file a Form D-2 transferring the $4,322.81 in their coffers to a new campaign for the 2017 election while continuing to file quarterly reports of their contributions and expenditures.

If you look back to the 2009 election, the slate of candidates Townes, Sasso, Melfi, Meneses, and Eisen closed their books by filing a D-2 and transferring the funds to "TOWNES SASSO MELFI & MENESES MOVING HACKENSACK FORWARD," while continuing to file quarterly campaign reports until the 2013 election (which they did not run in).  Even Charles "Ken" Zisa continues to file his quarterly reports, like clock work, for the nearly $60,000 he holds in his war chest (though something tells me his days of campaigning are over).

If you had any question if the Hackensack Citizens for Change was a continuing committee with interest in seeking reelection (and it wasn't already answered by their hiring their campaign manager, Thom Ammirato, to be the spokesman for the city) they do continue to expend funds for advertising.  For the past week, I have been unable to login to Facebook with out a barrage of "sponsored" (paid advertising) posts from the Hackensack Citizens for Change Facebook page.  Those are expenditures, right?  So they should also be disclosed on a quarterly reporting.

So what happened?  Mr. LaBrosse, Mrs. Canestrino, and Mr. Battaglia are not newcomers to the political process, they have been members of past committees, parties to past election cycle filings.  Further, the Citizens for Change was surrounded by attorneys and seasoned political figures who assisted in their transition into office:

  • Anthony Rottino, the transition team chairman (and coincidentally a new city hire), has run for State Assembly, County Freeholder, and chairman of the Bergen County Republican Organization, though unsuccessful in all three bouts he is no stranger to filing requirements.  
  • State Senators Loretta Weinberg and Kevin O'Toole served as Honorary Chairs of the committee.  They are no newcomers to the the political process or filing requirements.
  • Ted Takvorian, a local attorney, served as the Vice Chairman (coincidentally his son now serves as the assistant Municipal Judge).
  • Frank Catania, an attorney, (coincidentally later appointed the Municipal Prosecutor) assisted in the transition having sent letters on behalf of the Citizens for Change to the outgoing council. 
  • Thomas Scrivo, an attorney well versed in Municipal Law (coincidentally later named City Attorney), served on the committee and also sent letters on behalf of the Citizens for Change.
  • Bergen County Freeholders Steve Tanelli and Maura DeNicola are no newcomers to the political process and filing requirements, they served on the transition team.
  • Deborah Keeling-Geddis is a local resident who is a past candidate for city council (a party to a election filing) 
  • Assemblyman Gordon Johnson served on the committee, another seasoned political figure.
  • Cedar Grove Township Manager Tom Tucci also served.
None of the above listed transition team members are newcomers to politics or governance.  Did not one of them think to ensure the Citizens for Change complied with their very basic requirement to file quarterly reports?  Was this committee just an "in name only" group?

Campaign Treasurer, Regina DiPasqua, has indicated that she resigned from her duties as Campaign Treasurer, in writing, after her filing of the 20-day post election report.

Sure, a lot is going on when you are taking over a city with a $92,000,000 budget, maybe it slipped through the cracks.  But there certainly wasn't too much going on for the Citizens for Change to hold a $250 per person cocktail reception fundraiser.  There wasn't too much going on for them to start building their war chest.  I guess they were taking Ammirato's advice, trying to "get a real political operation going." 


I am not an attorney, I do not claim to be an expert in election filing requirements.  The above information and commentary is provided based on my experiences, understanding of campaign filing requirements, and my research.  I do not allege (nor intend to allege) impropriety or illegal activity.  It is up to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission to investigate these matters.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

You voted for change, you seem to be getting politics and litigation as usual

I am often asked why I publish this blog--why I take the time, go through the effort, and quite frankly the headache of dealing with the research, OPRA requests, and at times litigation.  It is a very legitimate question, and one that honestly, I often ponder.  I often think, as I suppose anyone does, if I am making a dent, or are my efforts futile?

Some think that my purpose is to advance my own agenda, others critique that my sole mission is to embarrass those in the public spotlight.  Yes, I have heard the rumors (from many) that I was turned away from a city job and am just bitter (funny that every time I hear these rumors they trail back to the same priss sitting behind the dais).

Well, I do not sell advertising space.  This is not a business, I don't earn a dime from it.  In fact, it costs me money.

We can put the futile attempts at deflection and dismissal to rest, I have no interest in public sector employment.  I do quite alright as a budding professional with a good private sector job.  I don't see myself taking a pay cut to take an administrative position and be under the microscope of people like, well me.

I was raised better than to "go around embarrassing people." My father always told me that if you go around digging other people's holes, you are bound to fall in yourself.  I think we all know that you don't have to go around digging holes, if you give a greedy politician enough rope.....  My commentaries are truthful (admittedly, often satirical--but based on research and information).  If people are embarrassed, or offended, by any commentary or cartoon I have made, they should take a long hard look at themselves.  Fulfill your campaign promises, work to better the city rather than advance your own political agenda and line your friend's pockets.  Do the right thing, it will leave nothing to criticize.

My mission is to be, and stay, informed.  "Gadflies" (as I guess people like me are called) are assets to any municipality--"...the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do…"  I bring information otherwise unknown or not shared to the people, I bring my opinions, what people do with that information is up to them.  If I inform and inspire even one person to get involved in their community, I have done what I set out to do.  I have, but we'll get to that in more detail shortly....

Thom Ammirato: City Spokesman or CFC Campaign Manager?

The Citizens for Change promised to end back room deals and the rewarding of political insiders.  So far their list of appointees is loaded with political insiders and campaign donors.

The Citizens for Change campaign manager, Thom Ammirato, was hired at a cost of $6,500 per month to the city to serve as the city spokesman.  Thom Ammirato continues to manage the Citizens for Change website(s) and publish political commentary.  I have written before about the potential conflicts.  Are the interests of the city, or the interests of a political group, being advanced at this $6,500 monthly cost?  Ammirato is not one to shy away from confrontation or take the high road--he regularly spars with residents and voters through email and social media.  If it is ever a question what Ammirato's mission is, what better way to interpret it than his own words?  See a true copy of an email from Thom Ammirato's to Rose Greenman below.


In the above email, Thom Ammirato replied to Councilwoman Rose Greenman, who sent him a link to my August 13, 2013 story "Out with the patronage, or is it?" He reassures her that there is nothing illegal about patronage.  Is that a tacit acknowledgement that they are doling out patronage jobs?

Ammirato goes on to tell Greenman not to mind the gadflies, they are a bunch that "have no idea how government works...they couldn't run a lemonade stand."  He calls us gadflies, a bunch of "self appointed do gooders."  Funny, because by that logic, this is what I saw on the evening of May 14, 2013.

But it is ok.... They found a good coach.... 

Thom Ammirato
And before long, we had a new group running City Hall....
Anthony Rottino and Thom Ammirato
But I don't get it, is Rottino a friend of change? Or, is he a friend of the Zisa's?

Anthony Rottino with Lauren Zisa (Editor of the County Seat)

All the fun of cartoons aside, what is most disturbing of the email is the closing.  Ammirato explains that the "goal is to broaden our base... get a real political operation going that further marginalizes these people..."  Now that is scary, that is exactly the opposite of what CFC campaigned for.  To make matters worse, Rose Greenman replied to the email, she says that she "agree[s] with you [Thom] in this respect..."

Is this the open government the people voted for? Is the likes of Thom Ammirato what the city wanted or needs?  It is clear that he sees Hackensack as a piggy bank of political capital and through the Citizens for Change it is his intention to stymie the residents and advance an agenda.  But is that agenda what is in the best interests of the residents?  Is that agenda true, honest, change?  Is the City Council going to continue to allow someone with such a mission to be the official spokesman of the City?  Only if their mission is to silence residents and advance a political agenda rather than effectuate real change....

Now, not to spar with Thom Ammirato, but he did make an interesting comment-- "The Gelbers have no following."  Just a quick note on that.  

The Hackensack Citizens for Change facebook page has 462 followers, in comparison the Hackensack Scoop has 602.  The Hackensack Citizens for Change website has 7,102 TOTAL VISITS since it was published, in the past few months the Hackensack Scoop has had 11,034 UNIQUE VISITORS.  Please note those are unique visitors, not total visits.  I think I am accomplishing what I set out to do, inform and engage.  Not bad considering Thom is the professional, as for me and The Scoop--this is just a hobby.

I have never even met Thom Ammirato, but he has continually taken me on and put me down to the council--most recently he attempted to bunch me in with the "Zisa, Salkin, Hurwitz regime" in a post on the CFC facebook page.  There is only one way to address this in my eyes, providing Ammirato with a valuable resource.  It is never too late to learn to act professionally and with class, especially when he is dealing with the residents and tax payers.  See below a package that went out to Thom in today's mail. 

Political retribution continues in City Hall

It is no secret that I have doubted, and criticized, the job performance of several key officials in local government.  I have criticized (and even sued) Debra Heck for her handling of OPRA requests, I have charged Stephen LoIacono with being asleep at the wheel as the city careened into a morass of litigation, and I have chastised the former administration for their handling of Joe Mellone's blunders and trysts.  All three are now without city employment, but let us examine the how and why of their separations with the city.

On August 14th, Anthony Rottino had not yet been hired by the city.  Why would Kathy Canestrino be telling him (with laughter) to crack the whip in the building department (Joe Mellone's department)?  Are politicians now doing employee reviews and running our city departments?  Shouldn't the City Manager be "cracking that whip?" Were the proper protocols and guidelines followed in reviewing a city department and the performance of the personnel?

On September 11, 2013, Rose Greenman learned that Debra Heck and Rick Salkin were engaged.  Seemingly irate, Detective Greenman shared her findings with Thom Ammirato and Anthony Rottino.  

The three of them make quite a team... 

Boris, tell Natasha to "Sharrup you mouth!" before she writes any other silly emails
Now personally, I would say gossiping about an employee (Debra Heck) to their coworker (Anthony Rottino) is poor form, but that is just me.  Emails uncovered through OPRA requests also show that Kathy Canestrino and Rose Greenman represented to Debra Heck that they were regularly checking her office to monitor her whereabouts and breaks, it appears that they were keeping their own time sheets for the Clerk.  Despite referencing these time sheets to Heck, a number of requests from Debra Heck to review them went unanswered.  Is this because they do not exist?  Is this because Heck was on her regularly scheduled lunches or personal and vacation days when she was not in her office?  I suppose this will come to light through the course of discovery.

If Greenman's email to Thom Ammirato and Anthony Rottino (who by the way, she had no right discussing the job performance of any employee with) does not illustrate Greenman's displeasure with Heck and Salkin's relationship, let's look further.

In this email, Greenman replies to a request from Debra Heck to the City Attorney for clarification on how to handle items being pulled from the docket at the last minute.  Seeking clarification in performing her duties from the City Attorney "has Salkin's paw prints all over it."  Greenman goes on to call Heck "brazen and stupid." 

Greenman makes her true paranoia known when she accuses LoIacono and Heck of compiling dossiers on the council.  If you did not know, Stephen LoIacono and Debra Heck were actually the reincarnations of J. Edgar Hoover and Helen Gandy, they were spies and they had a file on everyone.  

This email shows that Greenman's perception of LoIacono and Heck's political affiliations or personal relationships were her motivation for agreeing to the council requesting their resignations.  Whether or not they were the right people for the jobs, Greenman's keystrokes create an exposure to the City.  If Greenman has completed her mandatory ethics training--she may want to consider retaking the course.

Information received from city employees indicates that over the last two weeks there has been a rash of  suspensions handed out.  The city employees have dubbed Art Koster (personnel director) the "henchmen" as he shells out notices to unsuspecting employees.  Is this the start of a new wave of suits alleging political retaliation?

The more things change, the more they appear to be staying the same.  Political insiders and donors are getting jobs, claims of political retaliation, and the advancement of the political agendas of the few at the expense of the masses. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Hackensack Rotary to host annual Texas Hold'em Poker Event

On Friday, February 21st, 2014, the Hackensack Rotary will be hosting their 2nd annual Texas Hold’em Tournament at the Rochelle Park Knights of Columbus.  Entry in the tournament is $100 and there are prizes of up to $1,500 for the winner.  The tournament begins at 7:00 pm.

Registration before February 1st yields a $1,000 bonus to your starting chip amount of $5,000. 

The tournament is run by a fully licensed professional casino operator, each table is run by a professional dealer.  Last year there were approximately 85 players and many spectators who enjoyed 4-5 hours of poker, fun, and camaraderie.

All of the net proceeds will be donated to the club to support their mission of providing scholarships, feeding the homeless, funding the Rotary's Gift of Life program (offering life saving heart surgeries), sending children to the Rotary Youth Leadership Award (a one week intensive leadership conference) and many more well deserving charities. 

Tournament sponsorships are also available.   

Tournament Sponsor: $1000 
4 Tickets 
Company Name/Logo to be prominently displayed on event banner and signage 
Special Recognition during event 

Refreshment Sponsor: $500 
2 Tickets 
Company Name/logo prominently displayed near refreshments 

Table Sponsor: $250 
1 Ticket 
Company name/logo prominently displayed on all table signage 

Registration Sponsor: $100 
Company name/logo displayed at the Registration Table

Those interested in registering, or supporting the event with a sponsorship, can contact Dr. Dave DeOliveira at 201-490-6285 or hackrotarytix@gmail.com

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Hackensack Rotary hosts feed the homeless event

On Wednesday, January 8, 2014, the Hackensack Rotary Club continued their tradition of feeding the homeless at the Bergen County Health & Human Services building.  Over 100 guests were provided a hot meal with a warm, friendly smile. Hackensack High School students volunteered their time and talents by helping to prepare the meal as well as assist in serving the dinner guests.

The Rotary Club holds fundraisers throughout the year in order to sponsor these worthwhile and much needed events. Homelessness and hunger is a growing epidemic in this country and the Hackensack Rotary Club is dedicated to do our part to help those in need.

Rotary is a worldwide organization of more than 1.2 million business, professional, and community leaders. Members of Rotary clubs, known as Rotarians, provide humanitarian service, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and help build goodwill and peace in the world. There are 33,000 Rotary clubs in more than 200 countries and geographical areas. Clubs are nonpolitical, nonreligious, and open to all cultures, races, and creeds. The Foundation is a not-for-profit corporation supported solely by voluntary contributions from Rotarians and friends of the Foundation who share its vision of a better world. Anyone interested in joining is encouraged to contact Sharon Bregman @ phone: 201-723-3735 or email: sharonbregman@hotmail.com.