Tuesday, May 6, 2014

In Hackensack, a onetime loyalist turns vicious

Hackensack police officers, who are working without a contract, packed the back rows of Monday night's City Council work session. Christopher Maag, front, introduced himself to audience members as The Record's new Hackensack reporter, replacing Hannan Adely. Behind Maag is Steven V. Gelber, who writes the Hackensack Scoop.com blog.

Editor's note: This post has been updated and expanded.


Steven V. Gelber worked tirelessly for the Citizens for Change slate in last May's Hackensack municipal election, and was most visible after the polls closed, quickly counting the votes that confirmed the reformers' victory.

But in recent months, Gelber has turned against members of the new City Council, accusing them of the same kind of cronyism and abuse of power that marked three decades of rule by the Zisa family and their defeated council allies.

At Monday night's council work session, Gelber, who writes the Hackensack Scoop.com blog, spoke passionately against making acting City Manager Anthony Rottino permanent.

Rottino was a key member of the Citizens for Change campaign, providing advice and introductions to donors.

No experience?

But Gelber said Rottino had no municipal-management experience and even listed several monetary "judgments" against the official, who also is the city's economic development director with a total salary of $176,000 plus benefits.

The controversy is played out today on The Record's Local front, where Staff Writer Christopher Maag reports a majority of council members are engaged in "a power struggle" with the mayor and deputy mayor "for control of city government."

Maag incorrectly calls Citizens for Change the "Team for Change."

Three against two

Maag says three council members -- Leo Battiglia, David Sims and Rose Greenman -- may try to vote at tonight's public meeting to make Rottino permanent, against the wishes of Mayor John Labrosse and Deputy Mayor Kathleen Canestrino.

Labrosse and Canestrino recently stopped using Thom Ammirato, their former campaign manager and now the city's chief spokesman, to write their press releases, but Ammirato held on to his full $78,000 salary.

Labrosse said when Ammirato was given a one-year city contract, he didn't tell the mayor he had a full-time job with Bergen County and other side jobs providing public relations to Republican officials, as revealed in Gelber's blog.

Gelber faulted the City Council for not launching a statewide or nationwide search for a city manager.

He ended his comments by telling council members, "Get rid of your cronies!"

On Monday night, the City Council heard a presentation on a proposed Atlantic Street Park downtown, near the city's Cultural Arts Center and a 222-unit apartment building, both still under construction.

Park-grant deadline

Maag's story today didn't mention the Atlantic Street Park, a proposal that is almost as controversial as Hackensack's next city manager.

The park, with a performance space, would cost $585,000 and the city would get a $268,000 county grant, but only if it is built by October.

Officials of the Upper Main Alliance, a public-private partnership pushing the redevelopment of Main Street, spoke in favor of the park.

But during the public-comment period, residents questioned the need to build the park.

One women said the money would be better spent on a community center and municipal pool. One man said the city should fix potholes instead.

Far from shocking

Is there anything else worth reading in the Woodland Park daily?

Page 1 carries the second part of Staff Writer Jean Rimbach's densely written opus on the state Board of Public Utilities.

Rimbach fulminates about "a revolving door that often takes government officials into employment in the industries they helped regulate" (A-1).

Is that so shocking?

In skimming the text on the continuation page (A-6), I couldn't find any discussion of whether this impropriety affected the setting of electric and gas rates or anything else affecting consumers.

In fact, the real failure of the BPU is in not levying huge fines on Public Service Electric & Gas Co. and other monopolies for the slow repair response to Irene, Sandy and other big storms.

Ignoring real failure

Leave it to transportation reporter Karen Rouse to write a story about NJ Transit employees who used agency vehicles for personal reasons (A-1).

She continues to ignore another issue that affects thousands of commuters every workday: 

The inability of the state agency to provide enough seats on buses and trains into the city.

Another GOP buffoon

On A-3, Staff Writer Patricia Alex reports former Republican Gov. Thomas H. Kean will replace Condoleeza Rice as the commencement speaker at Rutgers University.

There is nothing in the story about whether Kean will finally fess up to hiding huge deficits from James Florio, his Democratic successor, who was forced to raise taxes, leading to his defeat when he ran for a second term. 

Doughnut hole

A second story on the Local front speaks volumes about the high cost of home rule and Bergen County's nearly 70 police chiefs (L-1).

Frank Papapietro, New Milford's police chief and go-to guy for doughnuts, is slated to be paid more than $300,000 this year, including nearly $110,000 in one-time payouts for vacation and accumulated sick days.

The Record has never examined why Governor Christie placed a ceiling on the salaries of school superintendents, but did nothing to control the exorbitant pay and benefits of police chiefs.


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