Several Hoboken residents, along with a few city council members, called for City Hall to re-open to pre-pandemic levels at last night’s meeting.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
“In-person meetings, is that ever going to happen again?,” Cheryl Fallick, who unsuccessfully ran for a council-at-large seat earlier this month as part of the “Independently Together” slate, asked during public portion.
3rd Ward Councilman Michael Russo nodded enthusiastically at the idea.
“See, someone agrees with me,” she noted.
Sheila Brennan, one of Fallick’s recent running mates, said that City Hall should not be treated like a fortress and that it’s time for all in-person functions to resume.
“Is it something that the council would consider doing to request or recommend that City Hall be opened again? I would love to go back to in-person meetings. I would love to see full access to the various departments in city hall made available to the public,” she began.
“I’m hearing so many people frustrated and really feel like it’s a fortress, and they’re never going to be able to access it again. What can you all do to help facilitate that? I would love to see City Hall opened for as much as it can be and safely as it can be. Let’s open our house back open to our people.”
Another resident, Michael Summers, said the city website had the wrong Zoom link for last night’s meeting, yet another reason why City Hall needs to reopen completely since this caused some residents to be unable to participate in the meeting.
“We should protest every day until you’re open: You’re asking for a raise, and you’re not even at work. Shame on you,” Pat Waiters, another recent council-at-large candidate, said regarding the salary range ordinance that was approved on first reading last night.
Council Vice President Jen Giattino, the 6th Ward representative, raised the issue as well, noting that a constituent was shocked to recently find out they couldn’t walk into the building to pay their taxes.
“I did have a constituent call me who went to City Hall this past week to pay their taxes, and they couldn’t walk into City Hall and pay their taxes, which is kind of like the ultimate slap in the face that you’re going to pay your taxes to the city of Hoboken,” she said.
“You get there and four security guards, I’m exaggerating when I say tackle you, but literally come to you at the door and they’re like ‘what are you doing here,’ and he said ‘I’m just here to pay my taxes’ and was told you can’t.”
She acknowledged that there is a drop box for residents to leave their tax payments, but said the time where this is necessary has passed.
“What is the plan to open City Hall? We’ve been closed for 18 months. It feels like we are much more closed than open,” 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher said.
“We all … get complaints from constituents daily saying they can’t reach anyone by phone. They can’t make an appointment, they can’t get in.
Business Administrator Jason Freeman stressed that City Hall is open by appointment only, which would not be permanent but would also not change immediately because of what other municipalities are doing.
“City Hall is open. It is open by appointment only. At the end of the day, City Hall is an office building. There’s 150 employees there every single day. Some are vaccinated. Some are not. And we’re trying our best to keep them safe and keep the residents safe,” he explained.
He noted that meeting space is available in the building for those with appointments to see city officials, with Fisher responding that a sign on Newark Avenue said it is still closed to the public.
“What are you doing to make public access to the city a bigger priority?” Fisher asked.
“I don’t know what other municipalities are doing, and frankly not that I don’t care … we’re operating in the best possible way for our building, for staff and our residents and I know that’s not going to make everybody happy all the time,” Freeman said.
“We’ve tried and spent a lot of money to put as many things online to avoid coming into the building, to avoid having to wait in any sort of line.”
Bayonne and Jersey City City Halls are also only open by appointment only, though Bayonne’s council meetings have resumed in-person (with a stream still available) while Jersey City’s have not.
Conversely, Union City City Hall is fully open and their board of commissioners meetings were held in person throughout the public health emergency.
Just before the conclusion of the meeting, Council President Ruben Ramos said he expected the December 1st council session to be held in person.
Paul Presinzano, the third member of the Independently Together team, has kept a running tally on Twitter since the election ended about how City Hall continues to remain open by appointment only.