Artists and Educators Urge Council to Vote “Yes” on Arts Trust Fund Referendum, Council Votes to Limit Public Comment


Artists and arts educators filled Jersey City Council Chambers on Wednesday to urge the council to vote “yes” on the Arts Trust Fund referendum. If passed on the Nov. 3 ballot, the fund could bring in about $800,000 a year for arts group and arts education. The council’s agenda also included votes on 24/7 security personnel for senior and disabled housing and on reduced time limits for public comments at council meetings.

During the First Reading of Ordinances, the council turned to Ordinance 20-021 for a tax levy referendum known as the Arts Trust Fund. When City Clerk Sean J. Gallagher asked for public comments, many artists and arts educators lined up to speak of their support for the measure.

A member of the board of the artists’ collective Pro Arts, Deirdre Kennedy told the council that Jersey City’s artists need the support.

“(Jersey City) has a community of artists that I thrive in,” Kennedy said. “I hope you’ll say yes.”

Brian Gustafson, a professor of sculpture at New Jersey City University for 15 years, asked the council how he should advise his art students if they vote against the measure.

“What do you want me to tell them?” Gustafson asked rhetorically. “Are we in support, or do I advise them to look across the river, look somewhere else?”

Before the council’s vote, Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey spoke of how funding local nonprofit arts organizations will help them grow into anchor institutions like Essex County’s New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Essex County receives $5 million in arts funding, Prinz-Arey said, while Hudson gets much less. Once those organizations expand, they could be eligible for greater state funding.

“We have fantastic organizations like Art House (Productions), Nimbus (Dance Works), Jersey City Theater Center, Pro Arts,” Councilwoman Prinz-Arey said, “and the Jersey City Arts Council (is) advocating for all these groups. What’s important to know is that with this funding, we can support these organizations to build them up to the status of longstanding anchors, so Hudson County can get a bigger slice of the pie.”

The council voted 8-0 in favor of the referendum. (Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley was not in attendance.)

Once City Clerk Gallagher announced the vote, people in the gallery erupted in applause. Many of the artists headed to the rotunda outside the city council chambers to celebrate the vote including founder and artistic director of Speranza Theater Company, Heather Wahl.

“I am thrilled it’s unanimous,” Wahl said. “I’m also really pleased to hear the individual comments of support from the council people. Even if it doesn’t pass in November, they ought to find a way to support the arts. They see value in the arts.”

Short Term Tax

The council approved the first reading of Ordinance 20-027 to impose a 6% tax on hotel and short-term rentals in accordance with the Hotel and Motel Occupancy Tax Act.

“(This ordinance) provides hotel tax for short term rentals,” Councilman at Large Rolando L. Lavarro Jr. said. “I brought this to the administration’s attention last October, so I’m glad to see this is moving forward.”

Motion to Move

The council voted 8-0 to move its vote on Ordinance 20-026 to the next council meeting on March 11. If approved, the ordinance would allow vacating a section of 17th Street for the Jersey Avenue Park Redevelopment Plan, which will feature Coles Street Park and a campus of mixed-use buildings bordered by 16th Street on the south side, 18th street on the north side, Jersey Avenue on the east side and Coles and Monmouth Street on the west side.

Ward D Councilman James Solomon said he would like more time to review the ordinance.

“There are a couple of requirements of the redevelopment plan I want to go over,” Councilman Solomon said.

Forfeiture Registry Fee Increase

Ordinance 20-028, which would increase the registration fee of foreclosure property to $500, was approved 7-0-1 with Councilman Lavarro abstaining.

“I’d like to explore this more, and just make sure this is the best decision for Jersey City,” Councilman Lavarro said.

Senior Security 24/7

For the Second Reading of Ordinances, the council approved 8-0 Ordinance 20-010, which would provide 24/7 security attendants in city-owned-and-operated senior and disabled housing. Jersey City resident LaVern Washington spoke of her support during the public hearing of the proposed ordinance.

“I think it’s a very overdue ordinance,” Washington said. “This is one of the greatest things you can do, and I thank you for it.”

The council voted 8-0 on a motion to amend wording in the ordinance to change the “security guard” job definition to “security attendant.”

In addition, Councilman at Large Daniel Rivera requested that the ordinance state that no housing resident may be substituted to work as a security attendant if someone doesn’t show up for work.

“Can we be specific and say that no residents can do it, or we can do a general definition for attendant?” Councilman Rivera said. “I think if we don’t do any type of definition, they’re still going to put a resident there.”

Three Minutes, Please!

The Second Reading of Ordinance 20-018 was introduced to impose a three-minute limit on members of the public wishing to speak during hearings on both Second Reading Ordinances and the public speaking portion of council meetings and to impose a five-minute limit on public comments on the adoption of budgets and amendments to same. Jersey City resident Patricia Waiters urged the council to vote against the measure.

“It’s about us. We vote for you. Don’t take away from the public,” Waiters said. “We vote for you to put forth legislation. This is basically our meeting. Try to accommodate the public as best as you can.”

Jersey City Parent Natalia Ioffe, Photo by Sally Deering

Jersey City resident and mother of two Natalia Ioffe spoke about the difficulty she has getting to council meetings and the importance of keeping the public comments to five minutes.

“For me to come to these meetings, I have to make a great deal of arrangements knowing these meetings can last until 10 or 11 at night,” Ioffe said. “We don’t want to waste our time. You may notice many of us write our comments ahead of time with respect to you.”

Before the council took a vote, president Joyce E. Watterman, who sponsored the ordinance, addressed people in the gallery about how often people called her saying they didn’t get a chance to speak at the public comments section of the council meeting because the list of speakers was too long. Reducing the public speaking section from five minutes to three minutes would allow more residents to address the council.

“As the president, I asked myself, how can I make this meeting run better?” Watterman said. “I’m not taking away your right to speak. All I’m trying to do is to hear more people. That is my intent.”

The council voted 5-3 in favor of the time limits with Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano, Ward D Councilman Michael Yun and Councilman Lavarro in dissent.

City Clerk Sworn In

Sean J. Gallagher sworn in as Jersey City’s new city clerk, photo by Sally Deering

Mayor Steven Fulop stopped by to swear in new City Clerk Sean J. Gallagher, who replaced the recently retired Robert Byrne. Mayor Fulop spoke about Byrne’s 30-year career and how Gallagher had worked diligently by Byrne’s side. The mayor congratulated Gallagher and his family and called the swearing in a “big moment.”

“We haven’t had a swearing in of a city clerk in more than three decades,” Fulop said. “These are big shoes to fill. Robert Byrne was probably regarded as the best clerk in the state of New Jersey and always by his side was Sean doing a lot of the work that made everything possible to move forward. In many ways the sentiment of the public toward city hall depends on the clerk’s office. We’re thankful for the work Sean has done. There is no bigger cheerleader for Jersey City than Sean Gallagher.”

Council President Joyce E. Watterman presided over the council meeting with Councilman at Large Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr., Councilman at Large Daniel Rivera, Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey, Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano, Ward D Councilman Michael Yun, Ward E Councilman James Solomon and Ward F Councilman Jermaine D. Robinson in attendance.

The next Jersey City Council Meeting will be held on Wed, Mar. 11 at 6 p.m.
Jersey City Council Chambers
Jersey City Hall
280 Grove St, Jersey City
For more info: jerseycitynj.gov

Header: Feb. 26 Jersey City City council Mmeeting comes to order, photo by Sally Deering

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About Sally Deering