|Hackensack residents lining up to question city officials during the public-comment portion of Tuesday night's City Council meeting.|
By VICTOR E. SASSON
On Tuesday night, more North Jersey Media Group staffers gathered in one place in Hackensack than at any time since 2009, when the Borg family's flagship newspaper abruptly abandoned the city.
Four reporters and a photographer covered the City Council, which met on the third floor of City Hall, several blocks from The Record's old headquarters at 150 River Street.
The day before, acting City Manager Anthony Rottino hit city officials with "a bombshell lawsuit alleging that he was the target of a smear campaign designed to run him out of his $176,000 position," according to The Record's lead Page 1 story today.
Rottino, of Franklin Lakes, actually holds two positions, acting city manager and economic development director.
That "bombshell" is getting blanket coverage in The Record, unlike the "bombshell" decision to pull out of Hackensack, where the Borg family prospered for more than 110 years, about a year after the biggest downsizing in the company's history.
The negative impact on Hackensack's downtown was ignored as the Borgs shifted coverage to big mall retailers, whose advertising revenue keeps the Woodland Park daily afloat.
Despite major missteps by the Citizens for Change slate that was swept into office in 2013, the Rottino suit is not expected to stop the drive to reform a city that withered and nearly died under decades of rule by the Zisa family.
In fact, as shown by the $94.46 million budget approved on Tuesday night, CFO Jim Mangin has earned praise for cleaning up the financial mess left by the previous administration.
Of course, the four reporters from The Record and Hackensack Chronicle weren't there on Tuesday night to report positive news.
Today's paper leads with the firing of former campaign official Thom Ammirato, a Rottino ally, from his $78,000-a-year position as city spokesman, but says nothing about the new spending plan (A-1).
Staff Writer Hannan Adely also reported the council summoned Rottino to "a hearing about his job" on Thursday morning.
Columnist Mike Kelly, the burned-out reporter who helped cover the official corruption and insurance fraud trial of former Police Chief Ken Zisa in 2012, smelled blood, prompting him to make a rare trip to the city.
Don't look for any insights. Kelly is probably writing his column today and filling it with the same tired phrases he has used hundreds of times before.
The first paragraph of a second story on A-1 today, under the rare byline of veteran reporter Jean Rimbach, refers incorrectly to Rottino as "Hackensack's city manager."
Rimbach reports "whistle-blower actions" like the suit filed by Rottino "are tough to win" (A-1).
The complaint claims Rottino opposed raising police salaries more than 2%, tried to protect Ammirato's job and raised questions about the allegedly "widespread use of steroids by members of the Police Department" (A-6).
Rottino also claims city officials violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination by "choosing a white candidate for a municipal judgeship over a qualified black candidate."
'Costly legal disputes'
The Record's lead front-page story on Tuesday reported the Rottino suit and seemed to blame the City Council for failing in its goal of putting an "end to costly legal disputes."
Of course, this is the kind of simplistic nonsense reporters try to peddle all the time.
To put an end to "costly" legal disputes, you'd have to upend the entire system of lawyers charging whatever the traffic will bear, backed up by judges, who were, after all, onetime lawyers who tested the limits on hourly rates.
A lawyer who charges $400 to $500 an hour effectively denies many people access to the courts.
Still, this is a system supported by many, including The Record and Jennifer A. Borg, NJMG's vice president and general counsel, because it limits the ability of employees to file suits over working conditions, age discrimination, severance and other issues.
On Monday, the lead story in Local on the proposed county budget contained several reporting and editing problems, as listed by a reader of Eye on The Record:
In the 4th paragraph, it states:
"Donovan, a Republican running for a second term, contends that in order to slice $6.8 million from the budget she proposed in March, the freeholders are tapping into funds that can't be replenished next year."