Hoboken corp. counsel recommends new vote on raising union donation limit to avoid legal challenges


Hoboken Corporation Counsel Brian Aloia has recommended a new vote on raising the local union donation limit from $500 to $7,200 to avoid any procedural legal challenges in the future.

Hoboken Corporation Counsel Brian Aloia.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

The ordinance, B-420, was approved on first reading on December 1st and then on second reading on December 15th after a “trigger clause” was added.

Specifically, the ordinance would only take effect if sanctions aren’t issued against 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco as part of an ongoing court matter to decide if he violated municipal code by accepting union donations above the $500 limit.

“The Amendment changed the ‘Purpose’ section of the ordinance by further explaining the reasoning behind the proposed change to Hoboken City Code Section 20D, and the effective date of the Ordinance. By way of the Amendment, it was clarified that the change proposed in the Ordinance would create a trigger event, namely, the resolution of a municipal court matter involving Hoboken City Code Section 20D,” Aloia wrote in his one-and-a-half page opinion obtained by HCV.

“Due to the timing and uniqueness of the proposed Amendment, there was insufficient time to opine with certainty on the legal implications of the Amendment including whether or not said Amendment constituted a substantial change which would require an additional reading prior to final passage.”

According to state statute, an ordinance cannot be amended between first and second reading if it “substantially alters the substance” of the legislation.

Since a substantial amendment is not defined, Aloia notes it can be argued the change was not a major one since the substance remains unchanged and only puts forth terms on how it would be applied.

However, he also points out that state statute also calls for notice and publication of an ordinance prior to a vote, which did not occur here.

“Therefore, if an amendment would increase objectors or persons who would come to a hearing to ask questions regarding an ordinance, the amendment should be considered substantial,” Aloia wrote.

“Additionally, even a change that ‘lessens’ the impact of the proposed ordinance could be considered substantial, as any change could lead to more questions or objections from different parties.”

He continues that if challenged, it is likely the amendment would be considered substantial by the court.

“Therefore, in my opinion, the safest course of action in order to avoid the possibility of an adverse ruling in the event a challenge to the ordinance was filed would be reintroduce and reconsider the Ordinance in January 2022 or shortly thereafter,” Aloia says in the opinion.

“Reintroducing the Ordinance would eliminate any argument that the provisions of N.J.S.A. 40:41A-101 that require a second reading if an amendments is made, was violated. I note that the Ordinance will be enforced and will be considered valid even if the Council does not reintroduce the Ordinance.”

Last month, the measure was approved on second reading by a close vote of 5-3(1), with 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, 4th Ward Councilman Ruben Ramos, and 6th Ward Councilwoman Jen Giattino voting no, while DeFusco recused himself.

Then-Councilwoman-at-Large Vanessa Falco, who choose not to seek re-election in November to run the city’s new division of housing, initially voted no but changed her vote to yes without explanation.

If the council were to consider the measure again, Councilman-at-Large Joe Quintero, who ran on Mayor Ravi Bhalla’s ticket, would vote on the ordinance for the first time.

Fisher said this outcome was expected, but nevertheless still disappointing.

“Where to start … when I asked Aloia for his opinion on this the night of the vote and he punted for the first time ever, I expected an outcome like this,” she said.

“And it explains why Council President Russo and Councilman Cohen did everything they could to obfuscate and cut me off at last week’s meeting to keep me from discussing this again. Hoboken residents deserve so much better.”

A city spokeswoman did not return an email seeking comment this morning, though Councilman-at-Large Emily Jabbour, a co-sponsor of the measure, hit back at Fisher.

“Councilwoman Fisher can’t seem to make up her mind on how she wants this issue handled. When it was politically convenient for her to file this complaint against Councilman DeFusco, she wanted this adjudicated,” she said.

“Now, when it is no longer convenient, she points fingers at everyone but the person who violated the ordinance. What was passed by the City Council is the fairest approach to handling this matter. The DeFusco matter will continue to make its way through the courts and when a decision is made, the ordinance will take effect – not before.”

Unsurprisingly, that didn’t change Fisher’s point of view.

“Councilwoman Jabbour’s comments just further hit home my point that this was a self interest vote. She claims her reckless undoing of two decades of campaign finance reform by Hoboken residents and Mayor Zimmer is ‘the fairest’… for her maybe,” she said.

“But Hoboken residents know it’s not fair to them.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated with a comment from Councilman-at-Large Emily Jabbour and a response from 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher.

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  1. Good for Jabbour. Tiffanie loves pointing the finger at everyone else, but in reality she is probably the most political one of them all.

    Defusco was the enemy until she realized ravi was a bigger enemy. Then defusco became her friend to try to take down ravi. Then defusco left for Colombia and tiffanie kept defending him because she had no other choice.

    And now she’s basically trying to swim against the current, trying not to drown.

  2. Ironic that Councilwoman Fisher didn’t appreciate getting cut off while she was talking (and actually not saying anything of relevance) but didn’t have any issues with it when Councilwoman Jabbour was consistently cut off while Councilwoman Giattino played the Zoom Czar managing the virtual CC meetings.

    It’s quite pathetic that Fisher has only lost ground, no matter how many times HCV publishes her poorly written statements or when she plays keyboard warrior on Twitter, mostly with trolls. But for once, I’ll agree with Fisher. Hoboken does deserve better and that starts by not re-electing her in the 2nd ward.

  3. I refuse to believe that Councilwoman Fisher is this ignorant. She needs to get it through her extra thick skull that if she wants to enact campaign financial reforms, she has to do it at the State level. State law supersedes municipal law! These “two decades of campaign financial reform” that she mentions here are an illusion that she’s trying to keep alive. Smoke and mirrors, that’s all. Plus, how can it be a “self-interest vote” when the ordinance in question leaves it up to the courts to decide? Can somebody out there please explain these nuances to Ms. Fisher?

    • The only thing more dangerous than ignorance is arrogance. And Councilwoman Fisher believes she’s the smartest in every room. Clearly, her track record proves it. Ravi = unelectable. #FourthPlaceJen = self-explanatory. The #IndependentlyTogether Ticket = best for Hoboken. Oh wait, she’s gotten it wrong every time.

    • Mayor Bhalla wrote the law when he was Council President and made it clear that had researched and was comfortable with it’s legality. It’s now his job and the job of the City’s legal department to vigorously defend the law in court. Instead he’s made it clear he wants a court to throw out the law he wrote and his minions are writing the reform efforts he championed were stupid and obviously illegal from the get go. And Fisher is viciously attacked by Mayor Bhalla’s shills for agreeing with Council President Bhalla. You really couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried.

    • State law allows municipalities to make any necessary local laws that are not contrary to the state laws. The state laws say contribution amounts cannot exceed $2,600 (or even higher depending on form of contribution) for unions. Hoboken’s law at $500 is within the $2600 so it is not contrary to state law. Hoboken could not, for example, set a law at $5000 as the limit, as that would exceed state law. The interpretation of “not contrary to” means within the limits of. It doesn’t meant that it has to be the same. That is the whole point of this provision to allow municipalities to make laws that work for their community: https://law.justia.com/codes/new-jersey/2013/title-40/section-40-48-2/

      40:48-2. Other necessary and proper ordinances

      Any municipality may make, amend, repeal and enforce such other ordinances, regulations, rules and by-laws not contrary to the laws of this state or of the United States, as it may deem necessary and proper for the good government, order and protection of persons and property, and for the preservation of the public health, safety and welfare of the municipality and its inhabitants, and as may be necessary to carry into effect the powers and duties conferred and imposed by this subtitle, or by any law.