Members of the Hoboken City Council traded blows over the appointments to the North Hudson Sewerage Authority and the city Zoning Board of Adjustment as some felt the process lacked consistency and transparency.
1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco was the first one to criticize the appointment process, noting that Ed Friedrich had his name on the agenda for the North Hudson Sewerage Authority resolution, while both zoning board resolutions remained blank (DeFusco previously served on the zoning board).
However, Council President Jen Giattino said there was a perfectly good explanation for this.
“This resolution [NHSA] was put in, no one put in for the other two, so I put in Ed’s – that’s the reason it is like that. If you had wanted to put in a resolution, you could’ve. If this fails, you’re more than welcome to nominate Leon Gold,” Giattino said.
However, DeFusco didn’t find that explanation to be a satisfactory one.
“In due respect, I think that we have a number of qualified community applicants that spend their time to serve this community, they put their names up for the public vote,” he began.
“We have folks, even on the sewerage authority, that have withdrawn their names because they don’t feel they’re getting the proper light of day in respect to their applications.”
3rd Ward Councilman Michael Russo agreed with DeFusco, indicating that he would prefer to do an “up and down vote” when it came time to do board appointments.
Councilman-at-Large James Doyle said that even with an up and down vote, one candidate will inevitably be voted on first, while Councilman-at-Large Ravi Bhalla essentially said Giattino only pointed out the council rules.
After about 10 more minutes of debate, Giattino said she would make improving the process a priority.
Friedrich was appointed to the NHSA board by a unanimous vote (9-0), but the controversy was far from over as Leon Gold, a former board of education trustee, went off about not being given a fair shot.
“Now I’m not supposed to say this but I will: you realize if I ran again for the school board, you and the administration would’ve been backing me up the hilt. You would’ve been in the street saying what a great representative I am,” stated Gold.
“Again, Ed’s gonna do a great job, I have no problem with that, I think you really have justified supporting him and it provides perfect cover for you. But on a personal level, I do feel a bit disappointed.”
Gold also claimed that only DeFusco, Russo, 4th Ward Councilman Ruben Ramos and Councilman-at-Large David Mello got back to him about his application, asking the board to withhold their “fake compliments” next time.
As far as the zoning board is concerned, DeFusco said that Ed McBride, a second alternate on the governing body, withdrew his name from consideration after he felt a member of the council was telling him how to vote.
“He told me something shocking, he said ‘I can’t vote honestly on that zoning board because I’ve basically been told how to vote by this body [the council],” DeFusco stated.
“And this is becoming a problematic situation … we are not to influence an autonomous body that is semi-judicial. And what is going on here, and I’m saying this quite publicly, is illegal: we cannot tell the zoning board how to vote.”
While he didn’t mention her name, 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher (who also previously sat on the zoning board) responded by stating she never pressured or threatened anyone on the zoning board, she simply expressed her views.
“I don’t disagree that is someone were to call any applicant whatsoever and say ‘specifically on this next application you need to vote as follows.’ That absolutely is inappropriate to say that,” Fisher explained.
“But, keep in mind, we’re all up here and as a council, we, our job, is to actually appoint zoning board members. We’re appointing people that we think have philosophies that are consistent with us.”
Fisher also admitted that she spoke with McBride and told him she personally believes in a municipal land law approach, variances to be considered exceptions, not the rule, and reviewing the commissioners’ pattern of voting activity.
Votes to appoint McBride and Frank DeGrim to the zoning board failed 4-5 (DeFusco, Russo, Ramos and Mello voted yes), while Steve Firestone was unanimously appointed as a second alternate (9-0).
Appointments to the zoning board were also a contentious topic at the council reorganization meeting earlier this month.