Council terminates Thom AmmiratoTuesday, the Hackensack City Council voted 4 to 1 to terminate the City's contract with Thom Ammirato, a public relations consultant being paid $78,000 per year. Mayor John Labrosse and Deputy Mayor Kathy Canestrino separated themselves from Ammirato citing personal reasons after the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office opened an investigation into Ammirato's serving multiple municipalities as a contractor while a full-time County of Bergen employee (a discovery first uncovered by The Hackensack Scoop). Rose Greenman was the lone dissenting vote.
Thom Ammirato was contacted for a comment, he has declined the opportunity.
Council Serves Rice Notice to Anthony Rottino
Tuesday, the Council announced that a special meeting will be held on Thursday, June 26, at 9:30 am. The Council did not comment on the purpose of the meeting, however, The Record has reported that Rottino was served with notice that his employment will be discussed at this meeting. We can only hope for more good news for the City of Hackensack to be announced on Thursday....
Anthony Rottino, Interim City Manager, files suit
This notice has come the day after Anthony Rottino filed a lawsuit against the City of Hackensack, Mayor John Labrosse, Deputy Mayor Kathy Canestrino, and Police Director Michael Mordaga.
In his suit, Rottino alleges that after holding the line in contract negotiations Mordaga threatened that if Rottino did not give in to union demands the PBA would "destroy him" and "blow up this administration." Mordaga was unavailable for comment on these matters but has previously been quoted as denying all allegations.
In his complaint, Rottino takes a number of cheap shots at members of Hackensack PBA Local 9. Rottino alleges that members of the police union have engaged in "widespread use of steroids," insurance fraud, and "mob-like and thuggish behavior." Rottino alleges that Canestrino, Labrosse, and Mordaga have created and condoned an environment where persons acting in the interests of the PBA have "been driving by [Rottino's] residence at night and placing stickers attacking [Rottino] in public places." Rottino further alleges that defendants have failed to "take meaningful steps to investigate the conduct and discipline those involved."
Mordaga has previously been quoted as indicating that the number of suspects in this matter was too great. PBA Local 9 President Frank Cavallo states that these allegations are baseless and "not only self serving, but irresponsible on Rottino's part." As to the allegations of insurance fraud and "widespread use of steroids," Cavallo reiterates that it is an "absurd accusation made in desperation." Cavallo defends Local 9 stating that the "Hackensack Police Department has, and will continue to, protect and serve this community in a professional manner."
Rottino further alleges that Canestrino interfered with union negotiations in an attempt to force Rottino to violate New Jersey State Law in exceeding a 2% cap on salary increases. The 2% cap only pertains to arbitration settlements. Further accusations that Canestrino's husband would personally benefit from the contract negotiations seem baseless. Emil Canestrino has indicated that as a retired officer he does not receive any benefits, not even health insurance, from the City of Hackensack. Public records indicate that Canestrino (from the City) merely receives an annual reimbursement of his Medicare premium, as do all officers who were covered under his contract. Perhaps these "misunderstandings" are further proof that Mr. Rottino does not understand Municipal Governance and isn't the man for Hackensack.
Rottino also alleges:
- He was retaliated against for his input on the hiring of a Municipal Judge. This hiring was done prior to Rottino's employment by the City of Hackensack.
- He has been falsely accused of improperly granting his friend Frank Catania health insurance. However, public records show that the insurance was granted AFTER Rottino became City Manager.
- He was defamed when Canestino told Council Members Battaglia and Greenman that he is a "drug dealer." Battaglia has publicly stated that such representation was never made to him.
Though Labrosse declined to comment on much of the complaint as the matter is pending litigation, he did note that the accusations are baseless and that this is an ugly situation. Labrosse went on that it is nice to see members of the community coming together. He explained we are in a bad way right now, but people are coming together for the betterment of Hackensack. He likened the situation to a car accident. It isn't good, and we all hope that everyone will be ok, but people are coming together and "stopping to help."
Public Speaks Out
During public comment, residents expressed anger and outrage over the Council's hiring of political cronies. Many went on to call for the replacement of other political appointments such as the Municipal Prosecutor who has (subject of great controversy) been given health insurance benefits. Jason Nunnermacker cites an arrest in Catania's past for possession and intent to distribute drugs. Nunnermacker indicated that he was reading from public documents when he shared this information with the Council.
Former City Attorney and Municipal Prosecutor, Richard Salkin, took on Rose Greenman for alleged violations of local zoning ordinances. He cites that Rose Greenman has listed her apartment on Prospect Avenue as her business address. According to local zoning ordinances, offices in her building must not be above the second floor, and she must have four parking spaces designated for her office. Her apartment/business is on the fourteenth floor. Greenman did not reply to questions about whether or not she has four dedicated parking spaces. Salkin provided documents to Art Koster, Assistant City Manager, and asked the matter be immediately addressed by our building department.
Members of the public, and the Council, applauded CFO Jim Mangin for a professional and thorough budget presentation. They seem to have gotten this hire right. Imagine what he could do if he had a strong, qualified, City Manager to work with!
I can only hope that this Council has learned a valuable lesson about political patronage. It appears by their termination of Thom Ammirato this evening, and their calling of a special meeting on Thursday to presumably discuss Anthony Rottino's future employment, that they are attempting to get back on track and finally live up to their campaign promises. I by no means condone, forgive, or forget the actions of this Council in the last eleven months. However, I have urged all of the members of the public to press pause and support the Council as they address this issue--it is clear that they are addressing it. As I told the Council this evening, their future actions will continue to be subject to strict scrutiny, but for today--let's fix the problem.