Here is the latest update from City Council President Ravi Bhalla who has some good news and an admission of a clerical error with respect to his law practice. Overall, with the new council majority things are moving in the right direction.
I report with pleasure that we are moving with determination to make our great city a better place. Here is your update on how the City Council and the Administration are moving Hoboken forward:
Tax Decrease!: At the July 20th City Council meeting, the Council adopted a 2011 budget includes an 8% tax decrease in municipal portion of your property taxes. This is great progress in the right direction. While I had hoped for an even greater tax cut, we were able to achieve this decrease while maintaining a budget surplus of approximately 5% of the overall municipal budget. Maintaining this surplus is critical to maintaining a healthy balance sheet so that the city can improve its bond rating.
Moving Elections to November: The City Council passed a law, signed by Mayor Dawn Zimmer on Monday, that moves local elections from May to November. This means that local Hoboken elections will coincide with federal, state and county level elections. I am proud of this achievement. It is a meaningful reform that will decrease the number of times you have to go to the polls to vote, and save taxpayer dollars associated with multiple elections. Most municipalities in New Jersey hold their elections in November, when people are most acclimated to voting. With this new law, Hoboken will now also be electing its local leaders in November.
Corner Cars: Under the leadership of Director Ian Sacs, Hoboken implemented the “Corner Cars” program, a public-private partnership with Hertz meant to increase resident transportation choices and reduce the burden of finding parking in Hoboken. The program has been a tremendous success and has received national acclaim as an innovative approach to address the problem of inadequate parking. Over 1,600 residents have already signed up for the Corner Cars program. Yet, for months, the prior City Council failed to officially pass a law to allocate the spaces used for these corner cars. Fortunately, on July 20th, the City Council passed a measure making the Corner Car spots official and legally permissible. I look forward to the continued success of this program for the benefit of our residents.
Progress towards a park in southwest Hoboken: The City Council passed a Resolution supporting the Administration’s use of the lawful powers of eminent domain for a park in the southwest of Hoboken. This resolution is significant because, irrespective of your views on eminent domain, it formally provides the Zimmer Administration with a necessary negotiating tool to finally deliver a park in the southwest of Hoboken. As a result of this vote, Mayor Zimmer also agreed to repurpose $3 million in county grant money towards the purchase of land in the Southwest.
Saving Our Hospital: An important step was taken towards saving Hoboken University Medical Center last week. A public hearing was held to determine whether the State Health Commission will recommend that a Certificate of Need be issued by the Commissioner of the State Department of Health, a pre-requisite for the sale of the hospital. I personally attended the hearing and provided testimony to the Commission imploring them to save our hospital by supporting its sale. A cross-section of community members and other stakeholders also spoke in favor of saving our hospital. I am hopeful that soon taxpayers will be relieved of a $52 million debt obligation and the hospital will be sold to a private entity.
Finally, although it does not relate to my public service as your councilman, in the spirit of full disclosure I want to inform you that in my private capacity as an attorney, I was “admonished” by the Disciplinary Review Board. My admonition was based on the fact that a settlement check was issued to one of my clients prior to the funds clearing my law firm’s trust account. Although the funds cleared and there was no client loss or complaint, the bank charged my firm a $70 fee. This $70 fee caused a violation and a finding that my firm's trust account was not maintained in accordance with court rules. I have since addressed these record keeping errors by retaining a specialized accountant to review and reconcile my law firm’s trust account on a quarterly basis to ensure its compliance with court rules.
An admonition is the lowest form of attorney discipline. It is not a finding of dishonesty or fraud, nor is it finding relating to my public service. Nonetheless, this was an error for which I take full responsibility. I hope that in my time in public service, you have seen that where I make a mistake, I acknowledge it immediately rather than make excuses or denials, and then take corrective action.
As always, it’s a pleasure to be of a service to you. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 201-647-6090.
Ravi S. Bhalla
City Council President