Hoboken Councilwomen Tiffanie Fisher and Jen Giattino are calling on the state Attorney General’s Office, as well as the Department of Community Affairs, to probe Mayor Ravi Bhalla’s recent job offer to Councilwoman-at-Large Vanessa Falco.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“Abusing the resources of public office is illegal and antithetical to the principles of good government, democracy and public trust and the reason we have laws against these practices,” Fisher and Giattino said in a joint statement.
“We hope the Attorney General and the DCA use every resource available to their offices to investigate these troubling actions by Mayor Bhalla.”
On Thursday, Bhalla announced that Falco had been tapped to be the director of the city’s new division of housing, a job with an annual salary of $87,500, come January in lieu of seeking re-election this November, as HCV first reported.
Fisher and Giattino cite three state statutes they feel this offer violated: provisions requiring compliance by local government officers and employees, official misconduct, and an offer of unlawful benefit to a public servant for official behavior.
“No independent local authority shall, for a period of one year next subsequent to the termination of office of a member of that authority … employ for compensation, except pursuant to open competitive examination in accordance with Title 11A of the New Jersey Statutes and the rules and regulations promulgated pursuant thereto, any former member of that authority,” the state compliance statute for government employees says.
The two councilwomen, both frequent political adversaries of the mayor, weren’t done there, also throwing individual haymakers at Bhalla over the situation.
“Predatory and unethical politics has been the hallmark of Mayor Bhalla. Unfortunately, a respected Hoboken councilwoman who has been an important voice and advocate for affordable housing and those who are most in need in our community, was on the receiving end this time,” said Fisher.
“It is Hoboken residents who are hurt the most by this. Housing affordability in Hoboken is a major problem, but instead of actually addressing this, Mayor Bhalla has put this at risk by putting his own political interests above Hoboken’s,” added Giattino, who is also the council vice president.
In response, Falco said that assuming anything unethical occurred is “slanderous” and “disingenuous.”
“Affordable housing has been severely ignored for far too long and they will take any and every opportunity to attack the Mayor and create false narratives that seek to diminish the efforts of his administration,” she said in a statement.
“To assume that anything unethical was done is slanderous and disingenuous to me as their council colleague. I seek to continue my efforts in working diligently to improve upon the very complex issue of affordable housing with the support of Mayor Ravi Bhalla and I hope these council members due the same.”
City spokeswoman Marilyn Baer added that the administration stands by the move and the announcement of Falco’s appointment did not go against any state guidelines.
“It’s the city’s position that the appointment and announcement of the appointment are not in violation of New Jersey law and any insinuation that it is, is simply misguided nonsense,” she wrote in an email.
“Mayor Bhalla is excited to work with Councilwoman Falco on good government initiatives. He hopes the rest of the council will do the same and put politics aside.”
In a similar vein, Council members Phil Cohen, Jim Doyle, and Emily Jabbour, political allies of the mayor, called the accusation from Fisher and Giattino “reckless and meritless,” though it is typical behavior from them as Bhalla seeks re-election for a second term.
This isn’t the first time Hoboken electeds have called on the AG to open up an investigation this year, with Bhalla and five council members asking for a probe into the “terrorism” flyer the came at the end of the 2017 election cycle back in March.
A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office declined to comment this afternoon.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with a joint statement from Hoboken Council members Phil Cohen, Jim Doyle, and Emily Jabbour.