Despite some public pressure, the Jersey City Council won’t discuss a situation surrounding an alleged bid rigging tape until after the November 7th municipal elections – and the hearing won’t be open to the public since it will occur during a closed session.
April Kuzas, a longtime political adversary of Mayor Steven Fulop and supporter of his opponent, Bill Matsikoudis, scoffed at the notion that the tape recording was political, given that is has come out of litigation that was filed in 2015.
“That recording didn’t come to light because some political campaign said ‘we’re gonna take this information and use it against the administration,’ this was an accidental recording,” Kuzas said.
“There is no political motive behind it, although the mayor is going to say ‘this is politically motivated, it’s right before the election, they’re doing it because of the election.’ No! The reason this tape recording exists is because the mayor’s chief of staff couldn’t hang up his phone and left a voicemail steering a contract.”
Kuzas also encouraged the crowd to chant “release the tapes” several times throughout the meeting.
During depositions for the aforementioned case, Business Administrator Robert Kakoleski and Dominick Pandolfo, who works under Kakoleski, said under oath that Akil, Fulop’s ex-chief of staff, and Shawn “Sully” Thomas Sullivan – a former chair of the local Democratic party – tried to rig a bid for an energy consulting contract three years ago.
Daniel Ospino, another longtime administration critic, asked if transparency was just a term elected officials used or if it was actually something they believed in.
“Take a moment and think, is transparency a word we say, a word we use or our way of life. We either lead by example or allow others to lead and be removed from the responsibility,” added Ospino.
Rev. Gloria Walton, of the Jersey City NAACP, questioned why Akil and Thomas weren’t disciplined, also asking what Fulop’s connection is to Good Energy in light of a recent campaign contribution.
“Thomas and Akil tried to bully and bribe their way into awarding a contract to Good Energy. Mayor Fulop said he didn’t know anything about Good Energy … however, records show he received campaign contributions from Good Energy.”
In his 29-day filing with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, Fulop revealed he received a $1,000 contribution from Javier Barrios, the managing parner of Good Energy, on September 7th.
Esther Wintner, a political activist running for council-at-large on Matsikoudis’ ticket, pointed out that Thomas and Cruz still work at City Hall while the community at large if left to wonder what was said on the tape.
When it was finally time for the council to vote on the matter after nearly four hours, they had to vote on two separate resolutions that would determine if the hearing would be public or not.
Ward B Councilman Chris Gadsden, one of the co-sponsors of the original resolution, didn’t see the point in having a closed session if there were no assurances to hearing the tapes.
“The closed session: I don’t have certainties on, and knowing if, which is central to this, listening to the tapes,” stated Gadsden.
Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano was also in favor of a public hearing since many people are already aware of at least some of the circumstances surrounding the tape.
“It’s getting annoying … yea, we’ve had closed sessions before, but the public wasn’t even aware of anything going on with the closed session. This is ridiculous, we’ve got to get it over with to stop the talk in the streets,” exclaimed Boggiano.
However, Ward E Councilwoman Candice Osborne, who sponsored the closed session resolution, didn’t agree.
” … I can’t have a judgement one way or the other and I can’t even ask the questions I want to ask because I can’t ask them in public because of the lessons we all went through when we were sworn in,” Osborne rationalized.
Meanwhile, Council President Rolando Lavarro felt it was obvious that politics were at play here.
“It was said earlier, during public speaking, that politics aren’t at play here. And I think that’s probably the farthest thing from the truth that’s going on here. You can tell me the timing, you can tell whose lining up on which side of this,” Lavarro said.
The vote to have a public hearing failed by a vote of 4-3(1), with Council members Gadsden, Rich Boggiano, Michael Yun and Joyce Watterman voting yes and Jermaine Robinson abstaining.
The measure to have a closed session hearing on November 13th passed by a vote of 5-3, with Gadsden, Boggiano and Yun voting no. Councilman-at-Large Daniel Rivera was absent.
As a result, the closed caucus meeting will be on November 13th. The Jersey City municipal elections are on November 7th.
Only Hudson County View reported that the council may not publicly discuss the recording after debating their next move at Monday’s caucus meeting.