The Hoboken City Council passed a resolution urging Mayor Ravi Bhalla to disclose all the details of his new of counsel position at a politically connected law firm.
The resolution, which was an add-on item, asks for the disclosure of any financial and political incentives associated with the mayor’s job at the law firm Lavery, Selvaggi, Abromitis & Cohen, P.C., as well as questioning how any potential conflicts of interest would be handled.
2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher gave a brief explanation of why the council introduced this measure.
“I think anyone whose ever worked with a large law firm and potentially worked with someone of the title ‘of counsel’ … you may have different views as to what of counsel could be,” she said.
” … The mayor of Hoboken has historically been [a] full-time position, is compensated for a full-time position, I think members of the public would generally expect the mayor to be 24/7 for Hoboken and we’re not expecting [him] to have a side gig.”
Councilman-at-Large James Doyle, who sought re-election with Bhalla in November, wanted to know what warranted making this matter an emergency addition to the agenda.
“Do our council minutes, our bylaws, allow for 5 p.m. resolutions to be just thrown on the agenda, unless it’s an emergency?,” Doyle asked.
“Yes,” Council President Ruben Ramos said to some laughter from the crowd.
“Number 3, have you asked the mayor these questions, rather than assuming that he won’t give you the answer and you need to pass a resolution asking questions?,” Doyle continued.
“Why have you not asked the mayor these questions instead of grandstanding in this matter?”
“The same way the mayor didn’t inform us of his new employment, besides Facebook,” Ramos quipped back.
Doyle further stated that under the Faulkner Act, the council is supposed to issue a subpoena, not a resolution, to question a public official – though no one on the council backed up that notion.
1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco, Bhalla’s most definitive adversary on the council, further defended the local legislative action.
“As we’re approving political contracts on this agenda, legal contracts that people want to know that we’re vetting the vendors the right way, making sure that there’s no funny business going on,” DeFusco said.
“It is this council’s absolute due right to ask these 26 questions and that’s what we’re doing: we’re doing nothing more than asking the mayor what the role is.”
Ramos then boldly exclaimed that Bhalla is the first mayor in the history of the city to take an outside job.
Furthermore, 5th Ward Councilman Peter Cunningham said the timing of the announcement was “a little strange.”
3rd Ward Councilman Mike Russo chimed in that he’d like answers as well, but expressed disappointment that this situation has been “politicized.”
“Every single one of these concerns are the same concerns I have. What is he doing in that firm? How is he handling that? What does that mean for the taxpayers in the City of Hoboken? What does that mean for this body?,” Russo began.
“All those same questions, I have the same exact concerns. But what my major concern here is tonight is how this is being politicized.”
6th Ward Councilwoman Jen Giattino added that Bhalla’s new gig is no better or different than when he worked at Florio, Perucci, Steinhardt and Fader.
The council ultimately approved the resolution by a vote of 7-1(1), with Doyle voting no and Councilwoman-at-Large Emily Jabbour, another recent Bhalla running mate, abstaining.
In response to the council’s action, city spokesman Juan Melli simply said that the mayor “will review the Council resolution and respond accordingly.”
A copy of the council’s letter to Bhalla can be read here.