The Hoboken City Council will vote on a resolution seeking “sworn statements” from city officials, including Mayor Ravi Bhalla and acting Business Administrator Jason Freeman, in connection to a tort claim filed by Fire Capt. Joe Grossi, Jr. last month.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
” … The City Council is aware that the complaint has not yet been resolved and the City Council is not contesting the mayor’s legal authority to appoint Battalion Chiefs .. the City Council is however, expressing significant concern about the alleged statements made to a first responder who was a candidate for promotion, by city officials in their official capacity as hiring officers and / or hiring influencers,” the resolution reads.
” … The City Council believes its [sic] necessary to better understand the nature of the claims made within the complaint.”
The resolution, which also says the council supports 1st Amendment and civil rights protections for municipal employees, highlights two specific instances mentioned in Grossi’s claim.
In a March 9th meeting to discuss a potential new temporary battalion chief post, Freeman is accused of telling Grossi “We know where you were on Election Day,” as HCV first reported.
In last year’s municipal elections, Grossi supported Council members Mike DeFusco, Tiffanie Fisher, Mike Russo, Ruben Ramos, and Jen Giattino – who, with the exception of Russo – defeated candidates backed by Bhalla.
Furthermore, Bhalla allegedly told Grossi in a May 15th phone call that “You’re only 34, your time will come, it’s not like you’re 65.”
Audra Carter, touted as the city’s first female battalion chief, ultimately got the promotion instead of Grossi – who pointed out in his tort claim that he got the highest score on the civil service test.
For those reasons, the local legislation would ask Corporation Counsel to obtain “sworn statements” from Bhalla, Freeman, and anyone else who participated in the aforementioned meeting and phone call by September 30th.
The measure is being sponsored by DeFusco and Fisher.
Even if approved, the likelihood of any sworn statements being obtained outside of a formal courtroom proceeding seems pretty unlikely at the moment, given that the city has the opportunity to settle with Grossi prior to him filing a lawsuit.
5th Ward Councilman Phil Cohen said it was important two of his colleagues introduced this to support a “cash in by threatening to sue the city,” continuing that this is not the time or place for the council to insert themselves.
“It is unfortunate that Councilman DeFusco and Councilwoman Fisher have introduced a resolution in support of plaintiff attorneys seeking to cash in by threatening to sue the City of Hoboken,” he said.
“The City Council has no business inserting itself into the middle of a threatened private action against the City of Hoboken, which could have the effect of undermining the interests of the taxpayers in court. But sadly, Councilman DeFusco and Councilwoman Fisher don’t care, and have concluded that actively working against the city furthers their own personal political agenda.”
In response, Fisher said that the accusations made in the tort claim warrant further discussion and no one should be jumping to conclusions yet.
“Violation of 1st amendment and civil rights is a serious accusation, and in the best interest of Hoboken residents, it is critical for the city council to know if this occurred or if the claim is fabricated,” she stated.
“The only Council member jumping to conclusions is Councilman Cohen, who seems to be in a hurry to be both judge and jury as he convicts one of Hoboken’s first responders without any further investigation.”
The council will convene via Zoom tomorrow at 7 p.m. and the session will stream live on the City of Hoboken’s Facebook page.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with comments from Council members Phil Cohen and Tiffanie Fisher.