During the caucus meeting of the Jersey City Council last night, the governing body debated how they would proceed regarding an alleged bid rigging controversy – considering the possibility of discussing the matter in closed session.
At the meeting, Ward E Councilwoman Candice Osborne wanted to know why the tape recording, allegedly a 13-minute conversation between former Fulop Chief of Staff Muhammed Akil and ex-local Democratic party Chair Shawn “Sully” Thomas Sullivan, was not a public document.
“So this is an interesting, complex situation, but it’s arising out of a point of litigation and we’re in the process of dealing with it in that litigation and we are trying to address it as best and appropriate to make sure that we’re not giving up or doing something that would impact that litigation,” responded Corporation Counsel Jeremy Farrell.
Farrell added that once the case has concluded, the tape could possibly be available via the Open Public Records Act, but that determination is made on a case by case basis and therefore could not give a firm answer on the spot.
At the October 11th council meeting, Civic JC Acting President Barbara Camacho urged her elected officials to release the tape recording, where it was revealed that the council planned to vote on a measure at their next meeting.
The tape recording came to light during the proceedings of a discrimination case filed by a City Hall employee.
During depositions, Business Administrator Robert Kakoleski and Dominick Pandolfo, who works under Kakoleski, said under oath that Akil and Thomas tried to rig a bid for an energy consulting contract three years ago.
Council President Rolando Lavarro questioned the legitimacy of the resolution, calling it “politically motivated.”
“I would say clearly that this is politically motivated, for the record, and that the resolution can be as simple as ‘requesting the audio tape for the dates blah, blah, blah, regarding such in such’ but instead it makes a lot of assumptions,” he said.
“I just don’t understand why we would need to file an OPRA request when we’re all on the city council,” exclaimed an annoyed Osborne.
The resolution in front of the council, 17-848, is “demanding the release of any audio recording in connection to recent news report [sic] about Senior Administration Officials and Energy Consultant bid steering.”
Ward D Councilman Michael Yun, one of the co-sponsors of the resolution, said that the council has a right to know the circumstances around what happened back in 2014.
“If its … it’s not a personnel, it’s a private issue: it’s a personnel issue about city employees and this city council has a right to know what happened,” stated Yun.
“We’re not involved with the litigation part of it, but we want to know the other part: how’d they try to fix the bid? What kind of senior officials tried to influence the bidding process? That’s our concern.”
Farrell responded that even if the resolution passed, he said it’s “just posturing” since it would not actually have any impact on the tape being released.
After further tense discussion between Corporation Counsel Jeremy Farrell and Yun, Osborne suggested perhaps having a closed session hearing on the matter so the council could finally listen to the facts of the situation.
“Instead of something like this though, why don’t we put something on requesting a closed session. Isn’t that the more appropriate way to handle this?,” Osborne asked.
“Definitely,” Farrell said, shortly thereafter joking “then you don’t get any press on it.”
After some more arguing ensued, Osborne said she would put up a resolution to hear the matter in closed session, prompting some input from Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano.
“You know, you say it’s a closed session for us, but it’s all over Twitter, it’s all over Instagram, it’s all over Facebook, the whole city – I mean,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.
Osborne concluded her argument by stating that the only way to actually get answers on the subject was to hear it during a closed session.
Yun said he would discuss the matter with his co-sponsors, Boggiano and Ward B Councilman Chris Gadsden, before considering any changes to the resolution that’s currently on the agenda.
The Jersey City Council’s public session is at City Hall, 280 Grove Street, tomorrow at 6 p.m.