The Hoboken City Council voted to remove a commissioner of the city’s planning board at a rare, lengthy hearing that lasted nearly two hours during last night’s meeting.
Holtzman was before the council after coming under fire for sending an email in July that recommended 16 land use attorneys to developers in light of the retirement of Bob Matule, a retiring lawyer who handled a significant number of development projects in the city.
While he expressed regret over the situation, Gary Holtzman said the hearing was called for political reasons, adding that his resume speaks for itself and hoped the council would allow him to continue to serve on the volunteer board.
“My good faith effort to help people is being politicized and taken out of context by members of this council. I guess the saying is true that no good deed goes unpunished,” Holtzman began.
“I don’t know what the road to the votes are, or what they hope to accomplish, by removing me from the planning board. But I believe my resume speaks for itself and it’s my intention to remain on the planning board and continue to serve the City of Hoboken by ensuring that the development in Hoboken is carried out in a modern, fair and efficient manner.”
During questioning from 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, Holtzman said the list of attorneys was selected at random with no ulterior motives.
Later, Fisher asked Holtzman if he was aware that steering business to an attorney is engaging in official misconduct, prompting Holtzman’s attorney, Kerry Flowers, to step in.
“It’s a legal conclusion and there’s a presumption behind the question and Mr. Holtzman has testified that he did not, so I don’t understand the basis of the question,” he stated.
1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco, the council’s appointee to the planning board, was another official who stressed this was not political and that his concern was that Holtzman may have “overstepped his boundaries” as a commissioner.
“This is not political: we were advised, by the mayor, his chief of staff, who called me directly and mentioned that they found this to be a problem, one that the council could address,” DeFusco recalled.
” … You’re well respected commissioner: a lot of people like you and a lot of people trust you and that’s exactly why, in my opinion, overstepping his boundaries could have impacted an applicant’s desire to hire a certain professional.”
Throughout the hearing, Holtzman also faced numerous questions about his employment as a project tracker manager for Katerra, a construction company. 3rd Ward Councilman Mike Russo took exception to the fact that this position was created specifically for him.
“A position that was created specifically for him, at a company that does business in the City of Hoboken. That potentially may be still, at this moment, doing business in the City of Hoboken. Those are all facts that were created on this record in the gentleman’s own words,” Russo exclaimed.
“He also testified that he influenced applications by speaking to those applicants outside of an official meeting.”
Meanwhile, Hoboken Councilwoman-at-Large Emily Jabbour said it felt like “a predetermined outcome,” which made her uncomfortable, and defended Holtzman.
“It makes me feel uncomfortable that it did feel like a predetermined outcome before we even got to today. This is a volunteer role. We are all human. We make mistakes. None of us come into these volunteer public service positions knowing how this works,” she rationalized.
Prior to the vote, Flowers said that in both questioning and deliberation from the council, “considerations were made beyond the scope of the official notice,” which should in turn make the hearing “defective.”
The decision to remove Holtzman passed 6-2(1), with Jabbour and Councilman-at-Large Jim Doyle voting no and DeFusco abstaining.
The full hearing, which lasted for just under two hours, streamed live on our Facebook page and can be viewed below: