The Hoboken City Council will take a vote at Wednesday’s meeting on whether or not to terminate the contract of a law firm that allegedly violated their pay-to-play laws.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
Two separate resolutions on this week’s agenda will call vote on vote with the existing professional services contract with Lite DePalma, Greenberg, LLC.
The measures were introduced by 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher after one of the firm’s lawyers, Victor Afanafor, donated $300 to Mayor Ravi Bhalla on March 29th, according to the latest reports filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (NJ ELEC).
According to the resolutions, the firm received $64,021.11 to perform legal work for the Hoboken rent control board, as well as performing $52,500 of legal work for Boswell McClave Engineering, thus far in 2018.
Afanador has been involved in at least two-profile cases in Hoboken: one where he had a political retaliation case filed by a former police chief dismissed in 2015 and another where ex-Hoboken Housing Authority Executive Director Carmelo Garcia alleged wrongful termination.
He represented former Mayor Dawn Zimmer and her husband Stan Grossbard in the latter case, who were dismissed from the suit before Garcia received a $700,000 settlement from the HHA.
The city’s pay-to-play laws state that vendors with municipal contracts cannot contribute more than $300 to a candidate and/or elected official “within one calendar year preceding the date of the contract.”
The sanctions could include being banned from receiving any city contracts for up to four years, one full election cycle, though there is a 45-day window for donations that exceed the limit to be refunded.
“At the last council meeting, council members raised concerns about contributions reported on Mayor Bhalla’s 1st quarter ELEC reports from active or potential vendors providing professional services to the city that appear to be in breach of the city’s public contracting reform laws,” Fisher said over the phone.
“Pay-to-play is a serious concern for all of us and should be actively monitored by our city’s pay-to-play officer. As of right now, we have not heard any response and therefore, we’re left with no alternative but to take this action.”
Earlier this month, 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco, Bhalla’s chief political adversary in the Mile Square City, led the charge to have the council remove an agenda item that could have awarded a contract to Prestige Environmental: who contributed $1,800 between Bhalla’s mayoral and team accounts.
Supporters of the mayor called this situation hypocritical, given that DeFusco, a mayoral candidate last year, had previously been accused of pay-to-play violations.
Afanador deferred comment to the city and a city spokesman did not immediately return an email seeking comment.