A lawsuit filed by a Bayonne resident on Christmas Eve says the city council “created a bait-and-switch” on the Caschem Redevelopment Plan, violating New Jersey’s Open Public Meetings Act.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
The suit, filed by Robert Archibald, noted that the first reading of the initial plan passed on November 10th.
“Except for their physical presence in front of the public, the level of information provided to the public about the vote was the same as if it had been conducted in private—none,” his attorney, Scott Salmon of the firm Jardim, Meisner, & Susser, P.C. wrote in the court filing.
“By and through their actions, the City Council has effectively created a bait-and-switch, an end-around method of rejecting an ordinance without actually having to go through public comment and putting votes on the record for the public to see.”
While the second reading was scheduled for December 15th, which typically involves a public portion, Council President Sharon Nadrowski made a motion to open public comment but did not receive a second.
As a result, there was no public comment and the governing body took no action on the second reading.
Instead, an amended redevelopment plan was put up towards the end of the meeting as an add-on agenda item and was approved 3-0(1), with 2nd Ward Councilman Sal Gullace absent and Nadrowski abstaining.
After the meeting, Nadrowski spoke out against the lack of public participation and said the practice of adding numerous late agenda items needs to be eliminated.
“As I stated at the time of the meeting, the public needs to have an opportunity to be heard. I was disappointed that the rest of the council did not grant residents that opportunity. It’s unfortunate that a lawsuit had to be filed to allow for public participation,” she said today.
The two-count suit alleges that OPMA and Title 40 of the New Jersey Revised Statutes was violated for not allowing public comment on the second reading of an ordinance.
For relief, the suit is seeking to hold public comment and vote on the second reading of the original ordinance prior to the revised one being heard on January 19th, along with attorney’s fees and any other relief the court deems just and equitable.
“If the City believes that you do not need a hearing if there isn’t going to be a vote, I would suggest that the exact opposite true; that you especially need a hearing if there isn’t going to be a vote so that the public may be informed as to why there isn’t going to be a vote,” Salmon told HCV in an email on Tuesday.
“Additionally, to the extent that the City pushes back whatsoever on our simple request for a hearing makes us even more suspicious about what it is they have to hide. Are they really so afraid of what people have to say that they can’t even open a routine public hearing on a routine ordinance?”
The city’s longstanding policy is to not comment on pending litigation.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a comment from Scott Salmon, the attorney representing Robert Archibald.