Zimmer takes aim at Hoboken BA over his OPRA for her RBD comms with council


Former Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer is taking aim at Business Administrator Jason Freeman over his recent Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for her communications with the city council related to Rebuild by Design over the past few months.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

On March 6th, Freeman, who has indicated he was acting as private citizen, submitted an OPRA request for all emails and text message between the nine council members, Zimmer, and, Stan Grossbard, her husband, between November 3rd and March 5th.

As far as Zimmer, the mayor from 2009 through 2017 before endorsing Mayor Ravi Bhalla as her successor, is concerned, this is not the intended use for OPRA.

“Jason Freeman, Hoboken’s business administrator, disingenuously claiming to be acting in his ‘personal capacity’ rather than on behalf of his boss, Mayor Bhalla, misused the OPRA process to gain access to my (and my husband Stan’s) private communications with Hoboken City Council members about Rebuild by Design (RBD),” she said in a statement.

“OPRA is meant to be a tool for use by the public to ensure government transparency and accountability. Mr. Freeman is twisting it into a tool to reduce transparency and avoid accountability.”

She continued that October was when she first learned that Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop was withholding easements that were needed to complete Rebuild by Design, a flood prevention project done in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJ DEP).

Zimmer further stated that Bhalla had been “hiding this fact” from public view for two years and the issue remains unresolved, which is why she first decided to go public shortly before the ward council races on November 7th.

“It is obvious that the purpose of Mr. Freeman’s OPRA request is to bully city council members into not working with me to advocate on this issue. This misuse of OPRA is a flagrant abuse of power by Mayor Bhalla and his business administrator,” she added.

Proactively, Zimmer released the emails and texts in question to HCV in hopes of showing that she was simply advocating for the project, which was a hallmark for her administration in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

Shortly after the November 7th elections, Zimmer sent an email to the council showing which easements had been held up.

Furthermore, some of these communications have already been made public, like her December 6th letter to the council indicating that a private developer led to the easements being stalled and a 2023 letter from the DEP to the City of Jersey City.

On February 19th, Zimmer sent a lengthy email to Council members Paul Presinzano, Tiffanie Fisher, Ruben Ramos, and Jen Giattino stating that she was concerned with Hoboken having to pay for another study to ensure that the easements would not interfere with a proposed light rail station in Jersey City.

She referenced Fulop’s remarks on the topic during his February 7th appearance on HCV Live & Uncut, where he said Jersey City would not pay for the study, as a primary reason why the council should withdraw the resolution for a $75,000 engineering contract until specific questions were answered.

The measure ended up being carried and eventually approved after the administration put in writing that the study would resolve the conflict between Lincoln Equities and Jersey City and the DEP indicating they were on board with Hoboken performing the study.

This came after requests from Presinzano and Ramos via a letter to Bhalla that Zimmer helped write, that same February 19th email shows.

The related text message don’t paint a much different picture, with Zimmer, and occasionally Grossbard, communicating with council members about the recent resolutions pertaining to Rebuild by Design and other flood-related matters.

In two separate instances, Presinzano and 3rd Ward Councilman Mike Russo made mention of a confidential memo about the easements, but Zimmer did not ask for any additional information and the councilmen did not volunteer any, either.

“Hi Mayor. Just got a moment to respond. Can’t get into much detail on my end because of confidential memos but always happy to listen …,” Russo wrote on February 21st after Zimmer tried to reach him prior to the council meeting on that date.

The earliest texts disclosed are between Councilwoman-at-Large Emily Jabbour and Zimmer, who try to find a time to schedule a call between November 4th and November 5th.

Both appear tied up with work before Jabbour brings up the potential political implications of what’s going on in a November 5th text.

“It is about RBD, which I’ve always known is your top priority. I continue to uphold that project as a priority and I’m worried what’s happening right now is counterproductive to that goal,” she began.

“It’s also incredibly dangerous timing for the election with candidates that we need to get elected – like Marla. It makes things very difficult. I want to connect so you know I’m supportive of what needs to get done.”

She also forwarded Zimmer a mass text that went out on Election Day featuring a quote from the former mayor in the November 3rd HCV story attacking Bhalla and Fulop, with the author of the text urging voters not to elect anyone on Bhalla’s ticket.

Jabbour briefly expressed her own thought in the forwarded message:”This is the problem.”

Zimmer and Grossbard both said today that none of their advocacy has been done with the intention to influence politics.

In an email, Freeman said that he did not mean to bully or intimidate anyone and apologized if that is how he came across, also complimenting Zimmer for her service to the city.

“I have always respected Mayor Zimmer for her tenure as the Mayor of Hoboken and specifically for her fierce advocacy of Rebuild by Design. There was never an intent to intimidate in actions I took in my personal capacity as a resident of Hoboken, and if that was the feeling that came across, I apologize,” he wrote late this morning.

“Ultimately, while we may disagree about how to get there, our goals are aligned: to secure any outstanding easements and ensure that we are successfully completing RBD for the residents of Hoboken.”

In addition to Freeman, all nine council members were sent Zimmer’s statement this morning, with this reporter also indicating she had released the related emails and texts. Only Presinzano responded.

“As an elected official, I must learn what I am asked to vote on. Mayor Zimmer is the expert on RBD and has helped me understand the urgency of this project,” Presinzano, who was sworn in for the first time in January, stated.

“It’s baffling why the business administrator would OPRA city council members when he has all the information. One side of the government should not need to OPRA the other side of Government. OPRA should not be weaponized and I will continue to seek Mayor Zimmer’s expertise.”

In his own statement, Grossbard said that is is “too cute by half” to think Freeman is acting in his personal capacity and both he and the Law Department she recuse themselves from the matter.

City spokeswoman Marci Rubin replied that the BA’s Office and the Law Department are not involved with handling OPRA request, therefore recusals aren’t needed.

“It is the legal responsibility of the Clerk’s Office to handle all OPRA requests that come to the city. If and when necessary, the city utilizes outside legal counsel specializing in OPRA to review requests. The business administrator is not involved in responding to OPRA requests.”

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  1. By order of Ravi the Compassionate, sound the retreat! This is one bollard dirty trick that is not working out. Nothing like that Terror Flier. Now that was a great, inside job, dirty trick. This one, not so much.

    Hearty congratulations though to Club Foot for Men, Jason and Bleepjay with a shout out to jonny cat. You guys are the best and by that I mean the absolute, vile worst. 🤮

  2. This project has taken very long to get started. But you have to consider lost time during COVID-19.

    Then the project was extended with the help of Senator Menendez. Do we need another two-year soon extension? Do you think he would help again?

    And let’s not forget the RATS in Hoboken. The City should already be planning an approach for Spring and the many rats expected to emerge soon from their homes under our feet. With the ongoing and numerous utility ground-openings for water lines, electrical lines and sewerage pipes, we need to develop a comprehensive rat control program instead of making the situation worse by digging everywhere.

    No need to fight over this or cast blame. Mayor Fulop and Mayor Bhalla work well together. The project will get done. As everyone can see, it is proceeding. Rome wasn’t built in a day! Make sure all the rats are taken care of.

    • True that Bhalla and Fulop worked very hard to give Mrs Fulop and her backers their golden ticket open a very lucrative cannabis distribution store in a residential building on 14th Street Hoboken.
      Of course Ravi Bhalla was aided and abetted by City Council members he funds and the those he appoints to regulation Boards. Was. that as many believe a political influence deal?

      Jason Freeman’s desperate and disingenuous fishing mission is a very clear that a very thin skinned Bhalla fearful that his house of cards is about to fall.

      It should always be remembered that Mayor Zimmer initiated and worked to get $300+ million dollars in funding from the Federal government and other sources. It was also Zimmer who made it public that Fulop was blocking the easements required to get the plan built. Why did Bhalla and Freeman withhold that information?

      Last night at the State of the City Address most of the things Bhalla was taking credit for were started and already in the works while Zimmer was still Mayor of Hoboken.

  3. While I did not agree with everything Zimmer did, paricularly her ill conceived exit, I always saw her as a true public servant, not a self serving political opportunist. She ran the city without much of the noise we have today, and steered clear of the Hudson County ruling class, developers and operators, which made her something of a curiosity and threat.
    Our current mayor, on the other hand, has made every effort to curry favor with those same developers and operators – and has been left at the altar, not a curisotiy, but clearly on the outside looking in.. His merry pranksters are now pushing back…. This is Congressional race is going to be a real show…..

    • We all feverishly awaited Dawn taking the first boat to China to save us from global warming. Communist China being by far the biggest carbon emitter on the planet; she never went to correct their government. She did however give us Ravi as the heir, the terror flier ruler. What did she know and when did she know it? Didn’t she and Stan actively back that 2017 campaign and then Ravi’s council slate in 2021?

  4. Guess it’s time to start Opraing Freeman and his texts between the mayor and John Allen. Maybe we should start with opraing any texts between the two of them and RBD.