Hours after news broke that the state Supreme Court issued Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla a censure for “unethical” conduct, the city council pushed forward in pursuing a way to force the mayor to disclose his legal clients.
“We received a memo on this from corporation counsel … can you just give a synopsis of your conclusions,” Councilman-at-Large James Doyle asked City Corporation Counsel Brian Aloia.
“I did reach out to the [state] local finance board and explained to them the basis of the ordinance. I had a nice conversation with a young lady there, who helped me out,” Aloia began.
“… [If] this ordinance was passed by the council, the finance board would not enforce the ordinance as far as reporting requirements in therein, of course they would still, as they always do, enforce any potential conflicts.”
As Hudson County View first reported, the council passed the first reading of a measure earlier this month that would require Bhalla to disclose all income from his of counsel gig at Lavery, Selvaggi, Abromitis & Cohen, P.C.
Prior to that June 7th meeting, Aloia issued a legal opinion that such an ordinance would not be legal and therefore would not be enforceable.
1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco, a staunch political rival of Bhalla, was happy to remind everyone that they first heard about his of counsel position on the Friday before a holiday weekend in February.
“What happens in statewide law firms is they walk the line that you just heard: they walk the line of ‘oh, we didn’t know.’ We just heard that today: the mayor was censured by the state Supreme Court and his reply was ‘I didn’t know,'” DeFusco said.
“This council caught a campaign finance breach before it became pay to play and we brought it to the administration. I don’t understand, for the life of me, how we can’t, in good faith, pass and shine sunshine on who’s paying the mayor?”
Just three hours before last night’s meeting, The Jersey Journal revealed that Bhalla was censured by the New Jersey Supreme Court on June 13th for not setting aside over $6,000 for a former employee’s retirement account between 2008 and 2009.
The 13-page decision, which reveals that three judges out of nine voted for Bhalla to receive a three-month law license suspension (four voted for the censure, two did not vote), did not paint him in a very favorable light.
” … In our view, respondent’s nonchalance regarding Bentsen’s missing monies, over the course of six years, including while he was under investigation and then disciplined in another matter, justifies enhancement from a reprimand to a censure,” the decision says.
Despite this fact, Aloia stood firm that the ordinance, as written, would not be valid.
“I will not sign off on it, and to answer the councilperson, there’s no way I could enforce it,” Aloia said after further questioning from Doyle.
Council President Ruben Ramos, another political nemesis of Bhalla, said that prior to the meeting, he sat down with Bhalla in his office to discuss southwest redevelopment.
That private sit down ultimately degenerated into both sides using “very colorful language” that resulted in Ramos walking out, he explained.
While that meeting did not go as planned, Ramos said that he is confident they will be able to worth together in the future for the betterment of Hoboken.
“That’s the job we’re here for, to be big boys and big girls, and move things forward for whoever we need to move things forward for.”
A short time later, Ramos agreed to table the measure, but also told Aloia he was seeking to start a local ethics board in order to eventually make Bhalla’s clients and contracts public.
Aloia said that would be the proper way to move forward if this was a matter the council wanted to continue to pursue and that he would help have something prepared by the July 11th meeting.
Bhalla spokesman Rob Horowitz said that the mayor is open to having a local ethics board, but also noted it’s time for Ramos to stop playing politics.
“Mayor Bhalla is open to a constructive proposal for an Ethics Board or Commission. But it is long past time for Council President Ramos to stop the personal and nakedly political attacks and focus on doing the people’s business,” he said in an email.
The full discussion on the matter, which streamed live on our Facebook page, can be viewed below:
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with a comment from Rob Horowitz, a spokesman for Mayor Ravi Bhalla.