Hoboken officials want planning board member’s removal for suggesting lawyers to developers

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Five members of the Hoboken City Council are calling on a planning board commissioner to be removed by Mayor Ravi Bhalla after sending out an email recommending over a dozen different land use attorneys to developers – at least one of which who is expected to go before the board. 

Hoboken Planning Board Commissioner Gary Holtzman. Facebook photo.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

“With the retirement of Bob Matule numerous people have asked for suggestions for a land use attorney,” Hoboken Planning Board Commissioner Gary Holtzman wrote in an undated email, where the recipients have been redacted, that appears to have been sent in July (a word attachment is dated 7-2018).

“I have polled our current and past Planning Board professionals and have compiled a list, alphabetically, of the people they have suggested.”

Matule is a local land use attorney who retired this summer after a long career, making hundreds of appearances before the Hoboken planning and zoning boards.

Among the 16 suggestions are attorneys from high-powered law firms Genova Burns, Price, Meese, Shulman and D’Arminio PC – the employer of former Bergen County Prosecutor John Minelli – and Florio, Perucci, Steinhardt and Cappelli LLC, the firm where Mayor Ravi Bhalla used to work when he was on the city council.

In a letter sent to Bhalla yesterday afternoon, Council President Ruben Ramos, 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco, 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, 5th Ward Councilman Peter Cunningham and 6th Ward Councilwoman Jen Giattino all called for the mayor to use his authority to remove Holtzman from the planning board.

” … We have independently verified that at least one of the recipients is indeed a local developer who may have applied or is expected to apply for local zoning and/or planning approvals,” the letter says.

“To our knowledge, Mr. Holtzman’s action is entirely unprecedented, puts the integrity of the City’s land use, planning and zoning functions into question and creates a potential for claims of conflict and favored treatment that expose the City to legal and reputational risk.”

The five elected officials also state that “multiple, experienced New Jersey land use attorneys and professionals” agreed with their point of view.

In addition to seeking Holtzman’s removal from the board, the council majority is also asking Bhalla to open up an investigation into the matter and for Holtzman to recuse himself from all land use matters.

The most recent planning board meeting was held last night and according to the city’s official website, Holtzman voted yes on five separate matters in front of the nine-member  board – all of which passed with ease.

“This is disappointing conduct that has created undue risk for our City. I hope that the mayor acts swiftly and makes the right decision for Hoboken,” Fisher told HCV.

Holtzman, a former board chairman who is married to the city’s Certified Floodplain Administrator and zoning officer, Ann Holtzman, did not immediately return inquiries seeking comment, while a city spokesman also did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

13 COMMENTS

  1. What a great concept! I think judges should start telling criminals what defense attorneys to hire too!
    Keep it in the family!
    Interesting list especially since Mr Burke wasn’t on the list and he appears before the PB regularly too
    This is really bad
    This should be sent to the DCA and the prosecutor’s offices

  2. So planning board commissioners are having private conversations with applicants?
    They should never talk to them
    Happy days are here again for the Russo clan.

  3. Has there been any official comment from City Hall on these serious allegations? Why is Ravi Bhalla’s past law firm on this commissioner’s list? How the hell did that happen?

    Where is LindalouMyStan and Bromar to offer anything by way of the measliest explanation? Can an ethics or criminal complaint be far off now?

    Who coordinated this inside the mayor’s office!? Who gets a cut? Fess up you shady Ravibots!

    • You are reasonable as always! A few years in the slammer will straighten him out. Reprimands are for people we like. People we don’t like should go to prison for their mistakes! Yay!

      • “He made a mistake.”

        Yeah, that’s a good defense. Should work out well.
        Who was behind constructing that list? Did John Allen in the mayor’s office approve it? When did Ravi Bhalla approve the list with his former law firm on it?

        Just another little legal contract $$$ for Ravi & co.
        Nothing to see here folks, move along.

  4. He should be removed immediately. So unprofessional , what was he thinking? Brings every vote he ever made into question. Was the application being presented by an attorney that didn’t make his “list”.

  5. The usual three escapees from the online Roman Circus seem desperately trying to churn this potential faux pas into some sort of a scandal. They really need to get some sort of a real life.

  6. The council passed a resolution directing corporation counsel to put forward a resolution to call a hearing on the removal of Holtzman for cause. Doyle and Jabbour voted ‘no.’ Are the 2 of them ok with Holtzman providing recommendation on which attorney applicants should use at board hearings for variances? I’m disappointed that these two don’t even think that this is something that should be fully vetted.

    Jabbour is showing that she is a rubber stamp. Might she look the other way on corruption and backroom dealings if the mayor asks her to? Doyle is a complete disappointment on this. Looks like he IS ok with corruption and backroom deals as long as they are done by people that are in his camp.

    • Fisher, Giatinno, and Cunningham suddenly seem OK with them zipping it when it comes DeFusco’s sketchy campaign funding that they got their panties in bunch about during the election. Tribal politics.

      • That’s old news and the record is set on campaign funding. NJ.com covered this story first broken here. Good work Hudson County View!!

        FOLLOW THE CASH!

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