The Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders ended abruptly after just over an hour yesterday after four electeds left the meeting, opting not to listen to objections to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contract for the fourth session in a row.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
The meeting, which started around 1 p.m., came to a close around roughly 2:15 p.m. – a far cry from the 12-and-a-half hour meeting last month where the ICE contract was renewed for up to a decade.
As usual, the freeholders moved through their agenda items swiftly and public comment began around 40 minutes, led by Jersey City resident Katia Oltmann.
“I just want to remind you that these kind of protests will continue and we’re not going to stop until we get justice,” she said, referencing recent protests outside the Bergen County jail in Hackensack and another in Newark opposing their ICE contracts.
Some activists and elected officials also participated in a protest outside the Hudson County Correctional Facility in Kearny last week.
“I hope they don’t continue the way they did in Bergen County and Hackensack, Freeholder Chair Anthony Vainieri chimed in.
Whit Strub, of the Northern New Jersey Democratic Socialists of America, also a professor at Rutgers Newark, said that while it was a relatively light turnout for public comment for the last meeting of the year before the holidays, the opposition to the ICE contract remains strong.
He also questioned the scope of an investigation into an alleged rape that occurred at the jail, to which Freeholder Anthony Romano (D-5) insisted that the county prosecutor’s office investigated and found the claim to be without merit.
Hudson County Counsel Donato Batista corroborated that claim and said he was unaware of any new allegations that may have arisen since.
At that point, just short of 50 minutes in, Vainieri asked Board Clerk Al Santos if there were any speakers left that would be speaking on a subject other than ICE.
When Santos said that it did not appear so, the Vainieri said “have a Merry Christmas everybody” and got off the call.
Marc Devens, of the Hudson County Progressive Alliance, said he felt the board chair showed “a profound disrespect” by refusing to listen to public comment, especially when there were only six other people.
“That’s just really disgusting behavior from a public official. It’s just kind of shocking,” he added, later asking, as he has in the past, if any financial analysis related to the ICE contract has been conducted in the past two years.
Freeholder Bill O’Dea (D-2) said that was not the case this time around, although there had been one prior to the two-year renewal in 2018, continuing that should be a requirement during next year’s budget season.
This afternoon, Vainieri said that he had no regrets about leaving the meeting early.
“The contract vote is over. They should be protesting their U.S. senators and the president. We can’t abolish ICE in the county, all we do is provide detainees a place to stay … To me these speakers are low-lifes,” he expressed.
“All they do is yell scream, curse, call you a racist, a misogynist: enough is enough. When you say you hope and pray freeholders and their families get COVID and die, we’ve got nothing to talk about. I don’t plan on sitting through any more public comment on this.”
According to Vainieri, Romano and Cifelli have both received threatening phone calls over the contract, which Romano said he reported to the police, while Cifelli could not be reached on Wednesday.
During the meeting, Cifelli said he felt it was convenient that our senators “threw us under the bus” a few weeks ago when they getting funding from ICE “blood money” without presenting a clear path out of the deal.
Devens pointed out that Susan Rice, Biden’s incoming domestic policy advisor, said yesterday that reversing President Donald Trump’s (R) immigration policy would take months, therefore he didn’t feel that argument held water.
Somewhere during this exchange, Romano and Freeholder Caridad Rodriguez (D-7) got off the call, leaving five electeds on the call – since Freeholder Kenny Kopacz was unable to attend – the minimum necessary for a quorum.
The final public speaker, Stacey Gregg, of Rockaway, said “shame on you” for pushing the contract through during the pandemic, further stating “you don’t deserve to be called commissioners, because you are slave owners. You should forever be known as freeholders and not in a good way, but in the way that name originally came to be.”
Around this time, it was apparent that Freeholder Jerry Walker (D-3) had left the call, meaning that there was no longer a quorum.
At approximately 2:08 p.m., Santos took a roll call and affirmed that only Freeholders Joel Torres (D-4), Fanny Cedeno (D-6), O’Dea, and Cifelli remained.
When O’Dea called Walker from chambers asking him to call back in for the remaining speakers, he said “they lost me when they started talking about that slave stuff.”
As a result, the meeting was forced to conclude early, but only after O’Dea, Cifelli, and Cedeno thanked Torres for his service.
He did not seek re-election after being kicked off the Hudson County Democratic Organization line earlier this year and will be replaced by Yraida-Aponte Lipski in the new year.
After the meeting, O’Dea told HCV that he had never seen elected leaders walk out of a meeting before to prevent a quorum in his 31 years of being in office and vowed to never to do so himself.