Thursday, August 30, 2018

While Mueller Investigates Russian Meddling in US Elections, Pravda may be Alive and Well in Hackensack

In today's high tech world with 24/7 media coverage available literally at your finger tips there are allegations that fly rampant of "fake news."  Politics aside, we all see it everyday.  Whether a conservative, liberal, or moderate, we all see the memes and posts disseminating fabrications, misrepresentations, and even at times outright lies, to serve a political end.  We, as a polarized society, all have our favorite news sources with their right and left leaning tendencies.  But in this high tech world where news can circulate the globe and touch millions of people in the matter of moments, it is more important than ever to know your source.

For those who may not be history buffs--Pravda, or Russian for "the truth," was the official newspaper of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.  During the Soviet era, Pravda was circulated throughout all of Russia offering analysis on economic, social, cultural, and science, as well as "current events."  The paper offered one sided coverage encouraging unity and promoting the "party line" serving as the mouthpiece for Lenin and Stalin.  As a state-owned periodical, Pravda had more than a "leaning bias."  It was political.

The North Jersey Media Group (formerly Bergen Record) has long abandoned Hackensack news covering really nothing more than the scandalous high readership topics (you know, the "bad" news) such as the Zisa criminal case and civil lawsuits and recent police misconduct allegations.  Such void of current events along with the rise of social media has made way for online media outlets such as Daily Voice, TAPinto, Patch and even blogs such as Hackensack Scoop.

But like I said, in today's fast moving digital world where media is shoved in your face 24/7, know your source!  Just as you wouldn't (well, unless you were a communist) have consulted Pravda for an objective analysis or news about soviet policies--would you rely on the Mayor, a council member, or the city's public relations firm for an objective analysis or news about the City of Hackensack?

Meet Dan Knitzer.  Dan is the Editor in Chief of TAPinto Hackensack.  With a tag line "Your Neighborhood News Online," TAPinto Hackensack describes itself as "an all-online, objective, hyperlocal newspaper servicing the residents, business owners and organizations of Hackensack, NJ."

Outside of Dan's work as the Editor in Chief and reporter for TAPinto Hackensack and various political activities, he is also an Account Executive for Visions Media Marketing.

Knitzer's LinkedIn

A Screenshot from Visions Media's website

You may, or may not, recognize the name Visions Media Marketing.  They are the public relations firm that represented the City of Hackensack prior to, and after, the 2017 municipal election in which the current council was elected.  There was a brief break in their representation of the City of Hackensack (well the council) during the election to presumably avoid the conflict of interest present in Vision serving as public relations consultant and paid campaign manager for the council's election bid.

Yes,  you are reading this correctly.  The "objective" news outlet TAPinto Hackensack, which you may be relying on for news about the City of Hackensack is run and written by an employee of the City's paid public relations consulting firm.  Do you see any close similarities to that Pravda description earlier?

Let's take a look at the objective news that has been covered by TAPinto Hackensack....

Let's take a look at April 2018, the height of the Board of Education Election-
  • An announcement that polls are open
  • Profiles of the Labrosse backed candidates for Board of Education
  • Accusations of wrong doing in Board Attorney's pay from Labrosse backed candidates
  • Article about a lawsuit served on the Board and offering commentary about non-Labrosse backed candidate who sits on Board
  • Unfounded allegations of wrong doing against Board of Education and School Board Attorney full of comments and bolstering of Labrosse backed candidates (about to be a lawsuit at the taxpayers' expense
Recent Board of Education coverage?  A piece profiling Frances Cogelja's (the Labrosse backed candidate) position on the alleged wrong doings by the Business Administrator prior to her employment by the Hackensack Board of Education.  While it is a sad and embarrassing thing that this former Business Administrator's name is now affiliated with Hackensack, the politicizing of it by Cogelja is inappropriate.  She used it as an opportunity to blast the Board, Administrators, and the district.  I can only wonder where Cogelja was to stamp her feet and scream from the roof tops when Thom Ammirato left Hackensack's employ under an agreement for non prosecution from BCPO.  Well, that was different I guess.... that was a Labrosse supported hire!

Other Hackensack coverage?  Plenty of press releases and feel good stories about splash parks, banning marijuana sales, etc.  No reporting of the $500,000 settlement for Dave Sims and Leo Battaglia's antics, no coverage of the council (4 of 5) facing massive fines for alleged violations of election laws, no mention of the council strong arming every collective bargaining unit through contract negotiations on multi-year expired contracts, no mention of the city cutting man power of the police officers on the road while we have had an increase in burglaries in the 5th ward, car break ins, and a shooting on First Street. 

Does that look like "objective" coverage? Or does it look like coverage that was intentionally one-sided in nature and served to prop up candidates running with the support of Labrosse's council?

I contacted Knitzer by phone this evening prior to publishing this story.  When asked if he worked for Visions Media he hung up the phone.  I called Knitzer back and left a voicemail message asking him if he could explain to me how he manages the inherent conflict of interest when objectively covering news for the City of Hackensack while simultaneously working for the City's public relations consulting firm.  I have not received a return phone call.  I assume that Knitzer declines to comment.

Is Labrosse and company indirectly receiving campaign promotional materials and media coverage financed by a City vendor?  Is TAPinto Hackensack really "objective?"  Know your source..... 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Sims and Battaglia Antics Cost Taxpayers over $500,000!

Remember this scoop from September of 2014?  It outlined the harassment and threats of retaliation that were being experienced by DPW and Sanitation workers by council members Dave Sims and Leo Battaglia. If you missed it, or need a refresher, take a few minutes to read it--it is unbelievable the bullying antics those two were (and reportedly are still) up to. 
This could be the only explanation......

Well the complaints went unresolved, the harassment continued, and it eventually lead to a lawsuit filed by two employees, James Murrell and Christopher Haw, against the City of Hackensack and Councilmen Sims and Battaglia in their official capacities.  The suit was quietly settled in late July for.... are you sitting down?.... $500,000! And that doesn't include the legal fees the City spent defending the two "Councilmen" (oh, but there is more coming on legal fees--a story is in the works, because in terms of lawsuits and legal fees, this council makes the Zisa crew they so continue to criticize look like altar boys).  As a part of the settlement, Murrell retired from the City effective August 1st.

And to think there is any validity to the rumors that Personnel Director Simeon Cumberbatch has been pushed out to make a position for the current Assistant City Manager in an effort to have Battaglia hired to the Assistant City Manager post...... Imagine the havoc he would cause if he ACTUALLY had an ounce of power over the day to day operations of the City and employees.  I would say such a move would be so shameless it couldn't be possible, but then again they gave his wife a 21% raise, then when it was reversed, gave it back! Shameless may just be Battaglia's middle name....

August 1 just came, as you write your quarterly property tax checks, ask yourself if this is what you signed on for when you bought a home in Hackensack.  We as residents and taxpayers deserve better!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Saturday, August 4, 2018

New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission Comes Down on Council

I have hammered the Council in this space on their lack of transparency and pay-to-play antics for some time.  If you recall, in January of 2014, I called them out on their lack of campaign filings or disclosures for their "Victory Dinner" fundraiser which was a high priced cocktail hour--more of a who's who of trough feeding attorneys and other vendors looking for government contracts.  

At some point during the span of January 2014 to present, the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (NJ ELEC) has pored over the Council's campaign filings and bank records from the 2009 election in which John Labrosse was elected to the council, and the 2013 election when the Citizens for Change slate broke into City Hall (unfortunately like a gang of home invaders who have since wreaked havoc and turned the place upside down).  In an eighteen page and ten count complaint served on John Labrosse, Kathy Canestrino, Leo Battaglia, Rose Greenman, David Sims, and the Campaign Treasurer Regina DiPasqua on July 25, 2018, the NJ ELEC outlines countless alleged violations of the New Jersey Campaign Contributions and Expenditures Reporting Act from 2009 through 2013.  The alleged violations include making deposits of donations without proper documentation, making reimbursements for expenditures without proper documentation, taking contributions in excess of the allowable amount per donor, not making proper disclosures of large donations from partnerships and corporations, and simply not filing certain required reports and disclosures.

Labrosse is the current Mayor, Canestrino and Sims share the post of "Deputy Mayor," and Battaglia is, well, a councilman.  A former ally to the Citizens for Change team, DiPasqua has since become a harsh critic.  Greenman resigned her post as a councilwoman and is still entangled in litigation with the City.  She was replaced on the ticket by Stephanie Von Rudenborg. 

I attempted to calculate the total number of alleged violations and fines outlined in the complaint, and stopped counting when the meter went over $100,000.  The group have the opportunity to be heard by NJ ELEC after filing an answer to the complaint, which is due within 20 days of the July 25th filing.  

Requests for comments from John Labrosse, Kathy Canestrino, Leo Battaglia, Rose Greenman, and Dave Sims went unanswered.  Rick Salkin, Esq., denies all wrongdoing on behalf of his client, Regina DiPasqua.  Salkin expects to ultimately receive a full exoneration on behalf of his client.  To the veracity of the allegations, Salkin contends that DiPasqua "has, and had, absolutely no knowledge." 

As for my own editorial comment, looking back on the 2013 election and the subsequent breakdown of the Citizens for Change team, we can all recall that the now "Labrosse Team" (my how big his head has become) was propped up by the fundraising efforts of politicos such as Anthony Rottino (he got a nice job in the City after the election which ended in litigation and a $500,000 hush money settlement out of the City), Thom Ammirato (got a lucrative City contract before he left in disgrace narrowly escaping indictment on theft of services charges), Frank Catania (later appointed Municipal Prosecutor and then disbarred for putting his hand in the cookie jar, his trust account), among others.  With such political muscle involved in the 2013 election, I doubt that DiPasqua was much more than a Treasurer in name only.

More to come......