For the third time since taking office, Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla has issued a veto for a measure approved by the city council, this time regarding how many people would be able to work for the mayor’s office in the future.
” … Each of the Council Members who voted to adopt this ordinance were placed on notice by the Law Department that the ordinance they were attempting to adopt was unlawful,” Bhalla wrote in his veto statement on Friday.
“This advice was apparently ignored. The City Council members took an oath of office to be lawmakers, not lawbreakers. I refuse to participate or be complicit in unlawful activity and therefore VETO this ordinance.”
Furthermore, Bhalla continued that the ordinance was “a petty attempt to weaken the office of the Mayor” and that the council needs to stop “wasting time trying to settle political scores.”
Sponsored by 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco, Bhalla’s chief political adversary, the local legislation would have potentially limited the mayor to two non-civil service employees in his office once one of his three current aides leave the administration.
Currently, John Allen serves as Bhalla’s chief of staff, Jason Freeman is his deputy chief of staff and Vijay Chaudhuri is the city’s communications manager, commonly referred to as the city spokesman.
As Bhalla alluded to, on both July 6th and December 4th, Hoboken Assistant Corporation Counsel Scott DeRosa told the council that the measure would have no legal standing if approved.
“There does not appear to be any state statute that specifically regulates that personnel of the Mayor’s office with a population comparable to Hoboken … Furthermore, it should be noted that the City Council does not have the power to enact legislation that regulates the personnel of the Mayor’s office,” he wrote in the more recent legal opinion.
Nevertheless, the second reading of the measure passed at the December 19th meeting of the government.
Supporters of the ordinance have previously argued that the previous two Hoboken mayors, Dave Roberts and Dawn Zimmer, operated with two aides – a trend that was consistent for at least 16 years – and therefore taxpayers should not be on the hook to pay for a third.
In a statement, Chaudhuri did not address that specific aspect of the situation, but called the ordinance as a whole “an embarrassment.”
“This ongoing vendetta against Mayor Bhalla and his staff is an embarrassment to the City Council. Instead of working on positive initiatives with the Mayor, the Council led by Mike DeFusco and Tiffanie Fisher, wastes valuable tax dollars to retaliate at every turn. Mayor Bhalla has rightfully vetoed this petty, unlawful ordinance.”
DeFusco hit back that he has worked with the new administration on many occasions and it was actually the mayor playing politics here.
“I am proud to have worked with the administration over the past year, growing the staffing at city hall, by forming a new office of constituent services as well as hiring a long-overdue city engineer and construction manager,” he said.
“However, it’s unfortunate the mayor needs to continue to play politics through his former campaign manager, now taxpayer funded city spokesman, for political gain. I call on the mayor to work with the City Council to address skyrocketing costs in our city’s budget and hope that 2019 will see less politics from the mayor’s personal aides and more policy, for the benefit of all of Hoboken.”
Chaudhuri argued that DeFusco did not actually play in any role in creating the construction engineer or constituent affairs positions.
Bhalla previously vetoed measures that would give voters the opportunity to bring back runoff elections and allowing the council two more rent control board appointments in January and March, respectively.
The council overrode his veto on runoffs in February and the ballot question won with ease last month. While Bhalla spoke out against the issue, he did little to campaign against it.
Additionally, the council decided not to fight his veto regarding the rent control board.
For any veto override, the city council would need at least six affirmative votes.
They next meet at City Hall on Wednesday at 7 p.m., where they will select the new council president and vice president.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a comment from 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco.