Lawsuit: Ex-Bayonne BA says Marist land was ‘upzoned to benefit local developers’


In an amended lawsuit, former Bayonne Business Administrator Melissa Mathews is alleging that the Marist High School land was “upzoned to benefit local developers.”

Former Bayonne Business Administrator Melissa Mathews. Screenshot via YouTube.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

“In or about the Winter of 2022, Plaintiff complained to Defendants, James M. Davis, John Coffey and Donna Russo, with respect to the transfer of the purchase contract for the property at Marist High School which was then upzoned to benefit local developers,” the four-count lawsuit, filed in Hudson County Superior Court on Wednesday, says.

The claim is particularly topical since the New Jersey Turnpike Authority is in the process of utilizing eminent domain to acquire the property for $31.1 million from a subsidiary of the Alessi Organization, which they purchased for $11.4 million, as HCV first reported.

The land deal has faced some level of scrutiny since early 2022.

On February 16th, 2022, the Bayonne City CouncilĀ approved a redevelopment plan for the Marist High School property. Then-City Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski, a mayoral candidate, asked if they should be voting for something that is under investigation.

Coffey replied that the Law Department had not received any correspondence about an investigation, only an anonymous letter that was sent to city officials, the U.S. Attorney General, and the Office of the State Comptroller.

Then in March 2023, the New Jersey Comptroller’s Office sued the city for ignoring an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, and later a subpoena, at the Marist land deal.

Sources familiar with the situation indicated that Mathews had made the complaint to the comptroller’s office at the time.

As for Mathews, she filed a lawsuit in April 2021 that also claimed she was ignored when she informed the defendants of potential misappropriation of funds and abuse of public office by certain municipal employees and administrators.

In the amended complaint, she gives some specific claims, through her attorney Juan Cervantes, including that Davis was “promising individuals positions on the planning and zoning board in exchange for campaign contributions.”

Mathews also allegedly reported several employees for stealing time, also stating that her successor, Donna Russo, “was illegally pressuring Bayonne citizens who had sustained property damage in fires to use the city’s emergency contractor for demolition services.”

That contractor is Joe Bolowski, who also serves as the city’s deputy office of emergency management (OEM) coordinator.

Russo and Bolowski were the subjects of a separate lawsuit by Mathews, where she filed OPRA requests asking for specific communications between the two and the city did notĀ  respond for months (the request was honored after a judge ruled in favor of Mathews).

In her latest court filing, the ex-city official said that she advised Davis, Russo, and Coffey that they should not accept a $64,000 office of emergency management (OEM) truck donation from Bolowski while his company had bid for a $4 million waste collection contract, which he was eventually rewarded.

“Defendants failed to apply civil service standards and arbitrarily, systematically, and capriciously retaliated against Plaintiff to her detriment,” the court filing contends.

“As a direct and proximate result of Plaintiff’s complaints, Defendants undertook retaliatory and adverse employment actions against Plaintiff, resulting in constructive termination of Plaintiff.”

A city spokesman said it’s their longstanding policy not to comment on pending litigation, while Cervantes did not return an email seeking comment.

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  1. This definitely needs to be investigated! As I commented a couple of days ago, how does a property purchased by speculators increase 3 fold in value in only a couple of years???? And purchased for eminent domain which is supposed to be “in the public interest”. Something really stinks here!! Good luck Ms. Matthews.