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COVID-19 and Whistleblower Lawsuit Dominate J.C. City Council Meeting


Members Vote, Discuss and Listen to Public Comments in Virtual Setting

Wednesday’s Jersey City City Council Meeting sputtered onto the internet in a live broadcast in response to the coronavirus pandemic that has swept the globe and infected 222 Jersey City residents as of March 27. Council members, most of whom appeared to be participating from home offices, voted on resolutions and discussed two issues — Covid-19 and the case of the Jersey City Employment and Training Program whistleblower.

City Clerk Sean J. Gallagher conducts virtual council meeting
via TEAMS software.

From his city hall office, City Clerk Sean J. Gallagher ran the meeting via software that gave Jersey City residents the opportunity to watch the proceedings from the comfort of their living rooms.  The typically four-hour meeting ran under an hour with only a few Jersey City residents calling in with public comments.

“This is a special meeting of the Jersey City Municipal Council in an effort to adhere to social distancing protocols and best practices imposed by the city and state authority,” Gallagher told viewers as he started the meeting. “Sorry for any technical difficulties.”

COVID-19

Like many Jersey City residents concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic, Misters Kyle Bruno and Ed Winger voiced their concerns during the public comments section of the meeting. Bruno asked the council if the city had contingency plans for people who can’t pay their rent; quarantining Jersey City from New York City (and vice versa); and what local hospitals would do if and when they reach capacity with quarantined patients.

“Is the council with the mayor’s office in any way thinking about any type of rent decrease?” Bruno asked. “Are they thinking of any quarantine or restriction of access into and out of New York City? When are local hospitals reaching capacity? Do we have any coordinated contingency plan, and how are we coordinating this plan with the state, FEMA, and the Army Corps of Engineers? I’m hoping you guys could shed some light on that.”

Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano also mentioned that the Jersey City Armory and Caven Point Military Base are available if local hospitals become overrun.

When resident Ed Winger called in, he talked of the uncertainty many local residents feel as they deal with unemployment.

“It’s challenging not knowing,” Winger said about what lies ahead. “Is the city going to do anything with the feds to support people who are on unemployment? There are a lot of services in Jersey City, our wonderful great city, but some of the city’s services to the people going through tough times are just not available.”

Councilman Boggiano said he had received calls that day about people fearing eviction.

“Sean, we’re going to have to protect people from being evicted if they can’t afford to pay their rent,” Councilman Boggiano said. “We’re going to have to do something. I’ve gotten a couple of calls on that. I’ve been speaking to people today on that issue. I hope we can come up with a solution on this.”

Gallagher told the council that, according to a recent New Jersey Supreme Court order, no evictions or foreclosures can proceed during the crisis.

Councilman at Large Daniel Rivera added that Governor Phil Murphy had just posted on the state’s website, NJ.gov, a link to services for those who lose their jobs and for employers who can’t keep employing their staff.

“We, as a city, we’re still under construction ourselves with what we’re going to do in terms with the funds that come in from the state,” Councilman Rivera said. “Actually, there are allocations where the business administrator has to be engaged along with all of us and the mayor himself.”

No Indemnification for the Jersey City Employment and Training Program

A resolution to authorize the city of Jersey City to enter into an agreement with the Jersey City Employment and Training Program came up for a vote — but not without objections from Councilman James Solomon.

Controversy has swirled around the program ever since July 2019 when employee and whistleblower Nuria Sierra’s accused the program’s then-executive director, Sudhan Thomas, of embezzlement. After filing her complaint, Sierra was fired from her job. In January 2020 Thomas, who was also head of the Jersey City Board of Education, was formally charged with bilking $45,000 from a government agency.

Councilman Solomon asked whether language could be inserted into the resolution that would protect the agency, which has no insurance, from going bankrupt if Sierra’s lawsuit goes forward. If a judge awards Sierra monetary damages, JCETP might not be able to withstand the fine and be forced to close its doors.

“As a policy question, my understanding is JCETP doesn’t have insurance for these types of claims,” Solomon said. “So, were a successful claim brought against JCETP, who would pay for it, and how would they continue their services?”

Corporate Counsel Peter Baker told Councilman Solomon that the city does not represent the JCETP and would not be indemnifying the agency.

“Why is it the law department recommendation does not indemnify JCEPT?” Councilman Solomon asked. “It’s my understanding we have done so in previous agreements similar to this one.”

Baker said he was not familiar with prior agreements. He added: “Simply put, in the present case, my responsibility and representation goes to the city and its constituent departments. If I felt it were in the city’s interest or it were necessary to indemnify another party, then we proceed with that and proceed with that thoughtfully. In the present case, and in view with the administration and business administrator, it’s our recommendation we not proceed to indemnify them for claims.”

Councilman Solomon pressed his point further, saying that the only lawsuit he’s aware of is by Sierra, and as a policy matter or statement of principal, she should be made whole.

“She clearly saw unacceptable behavior,” Councilman Solomon said. “She spoke out about it initially, quietly, not to the public and was fired, which was wrong. I think we have to take collectively, as a city, responsibility for that happening. My concern is if we proceed without indemnification, there’s no way for us to guarantee she’s made whole. If it doesn’t come out of the JCETP grant, where does it come from? JCETP doesn’t have a lot of resources. If we pass it, we end up doing wrong by her. And as a city there were clearly mistakes made, and we have to take responsibility for them.”

The Council voted 6-1 in favor of adopting the resolution with Councilman Solomon dissenting.

In attendance at the virtual meeting: Council President Joyce E. Watterman, Councilman at Large Daniel Rivera, Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley, Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey, Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano, Ward E Councilman James Solomon, Ward F Councilman Jermaine D. Robinson; and City Clerk Sean J. Gallagher. Councilman at Large Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr. and Ward D Councilman Michael Yun did not attend.

 

The next virtual council meeting will be held Wed, April 8, at 6 pm. To view the next virtual council meeting, go to the council’s page on the city’s website and click on the link “virtual council meeting,” which can be found on the left-hand side of the page.

 

Header:  Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley, Councilman at Large Daniel Rivera, Council President Joyce E. Watterman, and Ward E Councilman James Solomon participate in the city council’s first virtual meeting.

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Jersey City Covid-19 Update 3/24


City Council Meetings

In an effort to adhere to social distancing protocols and best practices imposed by City and State authorities, the City of Jersey City has canceled all public meetings and closed non-essential services as of March 16, 2020 until further notice.  As a result, the council caucus and council meeting will be held virtually as a video conference with public access until further notice.

The city is utilizing, Microsoft Teams, an electronic platform that allows 10,000 people to view the remote meeting as attendees, with anyone from the Jersey City team present as a meeting participant.  The platform also allows for standard public comment through a chat function and also through an integrated real-time call in system. The email JCVCM@jcnj.org  has been set up for community members to send their name and phone number in advance to be considered for public speaking.  City officials will then call them to participate in public comment.

The council meeting scheduled for tomorrow, March 25 at 6 p.m. can be watched HERE.

Schools

The Jersey City Public Schools have extended the closure of schools due to the Covid-19 emergency through spring break and are now tentatively scheduled to reopen on Monday, April 20.

Let’s Eat Jersey City

The city is creating a directory of restaurants and foods shop open across the city.  This listing will help get the word out for food providers still open for business and which food providers deliver or provide take out.

Restaurants and food shops can sign up HERE.

The city has set up an emergency coronavirus page with the latest updates here – https://www.jerseycitynj.gov/CityHall/health/coronavirus.

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City Council Meeting: The New HR Director’s Rise to the Top


JC Council Members Trade Barbs Over Appointment; Agree on Tax and Senior Security

The Jersey City Council’s agenda Wednesday night included votes on an ordinance for 24/7 security for city-run senior housing and a tax on short-term rentals throughout the city. Before the council cast its vote to appoint Joanne Rosa as the new director of human resources for Jersey City, two council members accused another member of sexism.

“Maybe (Ms. Rosa) has vast skills and vast experience, but based on her resume it doesn’t match what the city of Jersey City is looking for as director of human resources,” Ward D Councilman Michael Yun said.

Business Administrator Brian Platt spoke highly of Rosa’s work in personnel.

“Rosa has been working in the HR department for many years,” Platt began. “She has superior knowledge and experience related to civil service, the rules and regulations governing public employment. We did a very wide search, but it’s rare to find somebody who has that level of experience. It’s a key component to be working in HR here, and she has it.”

Thunderous applause from Rosa’s family and friends followed Platt’s glowing praise, and Councilman Yun had to back-pedal his comments.

“It’s not personal,” Councilman Yun said. “It’s my job as a councilperson. In the last six years, I saw what happened to our HR department, so please don’t take it personal.”

Councilman at Large Daniel Rivera interjected that he didn’t appreciate Councilman Yun’s comments about Rosa.

“It’s almost like a downgrade in public that you’re trying to do,” Councilman Rivera said. “This is borderline sexist. If you don’t want to vote for her, just vote ‘no,’ and we move on.”

Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey said she thought some of her council colleagues seemed to be harder on women directors.

“I’ve been on the council two-and-a-half years,” Prinz-Arey began, “and I’ve seen a couple of appointments during this time. Some of the men that were appointed did not get this public berating from the dais. I can’t just sit by and listen to that. In addition, I think there is a lot of value of someone working their way up. I know Joanne you have a lot of work to do. I vote I and wish you the best.”

Council President Joyce E. Watterman cast a “yes” vote and spoke directly to Rosa, who was seated in the second row of council chambers.

“Rosa, I know you’re a phenomenal woman,” President Watterman said. “This is your moment. This is your night. It’s an honor for me to say ‘yes’ to appointing you HR director

The council approved Rosa’s appointment 7-1 with Councilman Yun abstaining. Ward E Councilman James Solomon was not in attendance.

Senior Safety

A second-reading ordinance to mandate that senior and disabled housing with 75 or more units have security personnel 24/7 was brought up for a vote. Opening it up to public comment, City Clerk Sean J. Gallagher invited Jayson Burg to the podium.

“My friend William who passed away a couple of years ago had been fighting for this for many years. I’m glad it finally came in (for a vote),” Burg said. “Planning for 75 units is good, but what if you’re in 50 or 25? I mean this is far short from security, it’s insecurity.”

Councilman Yun addressed Burg’s concerns and said the ordinance was a mere first step toward addressing the problem.

“We are going to pass this one and implement the plan, and we’re going to see if they’ll be fine,” Councilman Yun said.  In the future if we see 50 units is better, we’re going to amend it, but this is the first step.”

In support of the ordinance, LaVern Washington said the council should consider amending the ordinance to 40 units now rather than later.

“We have senior buildings that really need this ordinance,” Washington said. “I have seniors that I take home from church on Bergen and Forest Street. The building has like 40 units, and there’s a lot of gun shooting around there, and on the weekend, they have some security, but during the week there’s no security. Then on Ocean and Dwight the building the housing authority built — it’s not 75 units, but these buildings are in the heart of the community where there’s a lot of drug activity, gang shootings. You have to address this now more than later.”

The council approved the ordinance 8-0.

Taxing the Short Term

The council addressed the second reading of an ordinance to adopt amendments to the hotel occupancy tax that would make the tax apply to short-term rentals and not just to hotels. The ordinance is meant to capture revenue from those short-term rentals, Corporate Counsel Peter Baker said.

“The short-term rental ordinance last year that went into law and was approved by the voters of the city did not ban ‘short-term rentals,’ it just regulated them,” Baker said. “There are still short-term rentals active in the city of Jersey City. What this ordinance does, it captures that and allows the city to collect tax from those transactions.”

When asked how much revenue came in from the hotel occupancy tax last year, Councilman Yun said the city collected approximately $2 million. With the passage of the ordinance’s amendments, short-term rental platforms like Airbnb would collect a six percent tax.

The council passed the ordinance 8-0.

16 Floors Going Up

June Jones, president of the Morris Canal CDC, photo by Sally Deering

The ordinance to adopt amendments to create a sewer easement and add floors to a new housing development received some back-and-forth from members of the Morris Canal Coalition and the Fields Development Group of Jersey City. The Fields company wants to increase the building they had proposed from 16 units to 24 units.

The reason for the increase has to do with the discovery of a sewer line underneath the existing warehouse on the property. Instead of building directly over the sewer line, the developer wants to redesign the building so it doesn’t land on top of the sewer line but next to it. In order to re-shape the building and keep the same number of units originally proposed, the developer would need extra floors.

June Jones of the Morris Canal Coalition, which holds monthly meetings with the community about development projects, asked the council to require Fields Development Group to produce renderings of the proposed building before casting their votes.

“They’re asking us to give them an amendment to a project from 16 stories to 24 stories,” Jones said. “What is it going to look like? There are clear violations that are taking place with this project.”

Urban planner Ed Kolling addressed the council and explained that a sewer line was discovered after the building plans had been drawn up. When it was discovered, the developer, Fields Development Group, met with the Jersey City MUA (Municipal Utilities Authority), and they agreed it would cost $12 million to relocate that sewer line and the cost would  ultimately get passed on to the users, Kolling said, so to be cost-effective, the most efficient way was to take the building and squeeze it down. It would go on one side of the easement, and then the building would go a little taller.

Urban planner Ed Kolling, photo by Sally Deering

“It doesn’t change the financial aspects,” Kolling said. “It’s not a new project. The number of units doesn’t change. The Jersey City MUA asked to accommodate this amendment so the easement would be granted. Also, in this amendment was a new map that shows the alignment of the sewer line so that anyone who develops on that site, they know that line is in. That’s what this amendment is meant to accomplish. It doesn’t change the basic project. That’s all we’re trying to do.”

The council approved the amendment 6-2 with Councilman Yun and Councilman at Large Rolando R, Lavarro, Jr., voting ‘no.’

In attendance:  Council President Joyce E. Watterman presided over the council meeting with Councilman at Large Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr., Councilman at Large Daniel Rivera, Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley, Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey, Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano, Ward D Councilman Michael Yun, Ward F Councilman Jermaine D. Robinson, and City Clerk Sean J. Gallagher.

Please note:  Due to coronavirus precautions, the City of Jersey City has cancelled future Council Meetings until further notice.

 

Header:  City Clerk Sean J. Gallagher swears in Joanne Rosa as director of human resources as she puts her hand on the bible, held by her son David Comee. Photo by Sally Deering.

 

 

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Council Tackles Coronavirus, Girl Scout Cookies and Yoga


Senior yoga classes and Girl Scouts who sell their Thin Mints and Do-si-dos without permits at street-side tables are issues on the City Council’s agenda this week in Jersey City. At the caucus meeting Monday night, the chambers grew especially quiet when Director of Health and Human Services Stacey Flanagan addressed the council with a coronavirus update: So far, 76 people in Jersey City were tested, and none tested positive for the virus.

“We have zero cases of the virus here in Jersey City,” Flanagan began. “We have zero individuals under investigation. We have been tracking this since January 26.”

Covid-19 contingency was not on the agenda for this week’s council meeting, nevertheless, Councilman Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr. asked Flanagan if she could tell the council the city’s contingency plan to test, contain and treat people with symptoms of the coronavirus also known as Covid-19.

“This morning we had a briefing with not just the Jersey City Fire Department and Police Department, but county fire officials, and the Office of Emergency Management where we walked through some specific protocols that they will be following,” Flanagan said.

The Department of Health has set up an appointment-only protocol for senior affairs, immigrant affairs and veterans’ affairs’ clinical appointments, Flanagan said, and the department will follow up all phone calls. At the WIC clinic and the city clinic where immunizations and STD testing and treatment are performed, the same protocol is in place, she said.

“Every person that gets off a plane from any of the (affected) locations are given information to call their local health department,” Flanagan said. “We’ve tracked nearly 70 of those individuals and all are asymptomatic. Every other day (they’re) calling in and giving us their temperature. If they are not compliant after 24 hours, we follow up with them. If they are not compliant after another 24 hours, as of today, we are sending out individual home visits. We have two nurses on our team that we just hired through a public health detailing program that are able to support the epidemiologist and the health officer in that.”

Business Administrator Brian Platt addressed staff protocols for City Hall and said that right now the city is not taking any pre-emptive actions to send people home unless they have symptoms.

“If anyone who works or lives in the city has symptoms, we urge them to call a doctor in our city offices or their own doctor,” Platt said. “They are all prepared to go through a screening process. If it sounds like it might be the virus, there are steps that we are as a city taking. We’re urging people with symptoms not to just show up at an emergency room and possibly infect everyone who is in the emergency room. We will be releasing more information about what to do and what we’re doing on the city side.”

“We’re preparing for the worst case,” Platt added. “We have to decontaminate City Hall. We are doing extra cleaning and making hand sanitizer more available. We’re not quarantining anyone pre-emptively unless they have symptoms. We’re not getting ready to send everyone home.”

President Watterman requested more hand sanitizer in every office, especially since City Hall has only one bathroom for women and one for men that’s on the second floor.

“We’re adding (hand sanitizer) in certain locations,” Pratt said, “but there is a shortage.”

The Health and Human Services office which has lists of seniors who participate in its programming are calling those participants to tell them that if they feel sick, they should rest at home and not attend the program.

“We’ll happily follow up with them,” Flanagan said. “This whole week we’re hosting workshops and information centers at all the congregant meal sites. We’re having a deep clean at all our senior locations as well.”

Councilman at Large Daniel Rivera wanted to know if the Jersey City Medical Center cordoned off a staging area to triage people with coronavirus symptoms who came to the emergency room for treatment.

“They currently have a quarantine area,” Flanagan said. “They’re using standard isolation gear, and they are currently monitoring people that self-proclaim but have not met any of the standards that require us to do the test.”

Councilman Rivera offered a proactive measure for the medical center to host satellite testing sites throughout Jersey City.

Covid-19 image courtesy cdc.gov

“We’re waiting for the next protocol to come out, which we’re hoping the county has coordinated with the governor’s office to allow for additional testing sites at laboratories like they’re doing in New York,” Flanagan said. “We have not gotten that permission yet. We hope to get that permission. This is why we ask everyone not to run to the ER but to call the state number (1-800-222-1222). The state number sends (the call) directly to us, to our staff. We will do an overview. Then we will coordinate with them to get testing so that they don’t walk into a public waiting area.”

“Is there any way we can get the medical center to make a statement like that?” Councilman Rivera asked. “That’s important. We need the medical center to be in the forefront of giving that information out to the city. It’s important that the medical center tells constituents of the city to make sure that you follow this protocol.”

Badges, Not Tickets

It’s Girl Scout cookie season, and the council discussed the resolution that would exempt the Girl Scouts of America from licensing requirements to sell their cookies. It seems a significant number of Girl Scouts want to set up tables to sell their Girl Scout cookies. Instead of policing the Girl Scouts for selling cookies without a permit, council was advised to approve the resolution so the Girl Scouts would be exempt. The council seemed to agree it was in the city’s best interest to help the scouts earn cookie badges instead of paying cookie tickets.

“We don’t want to go up against the mighty Girl Scout lobbyists,” Councilman James Solomon quipped.

What’s the Plan

During a discussion on the resolution appointing Joanne Rosa as new director of the Department of Human Resources, Councilman Lavarro said he had requested information from Rosa regarding the Recreation Department’s new reorganization plan (since it would have personnel implications) but had not received a reply or the documentation. According to Councilman Lavarro, when he asked Rosa why he had not received the requested documentation, Corporation Counsel Peter Baker told the council that there’s a legal issue at hand that prohibits delivering further documentation to the council at this time.

7th Inning Stretch

The council also discussed the resolution to continue senior yoga classes funded by the Office of Aging. The classes are offered in ten locations across the city and are attended by 200-350 seniors each month. Once under the jurisdiction of the recreation department, senior yoga and other senior exercise programs like salsa dancing, Zumba and Tai Chi are now under the jurisdiction of the Office of Senior Affairs.

Councilman Yun thought it might be better to offer the yoga classes through neighborhood yoga teachers rather than hire teachers who have to zigzag all over the city to the seniors’ class locations.  The national program Silver Sneakers which pays all gym and exercise programming locations directly for group classes that have seniors in attendance has also been approached as an alternative.

The council will vote on the resolution on Wednesday.

Council members in attendance:  President Joyce E. Watterman, Councilman at Large Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr., Councilman at Large Daniel Rivera, Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley, Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey, Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano, Ward D Councilman Michael Yun, Ward E Councilman James Solomon, Ward F Councilman Jermaine D. Robinson, and City Clerk Sean J. Gallagher.

 

Next Caucus Meeting:  Monday, March 23, 4 pm
Jersey City Hall
280 Grove St, JC
Jerseycitynj.org
 

NJ Health Department Coronavirus Hotline: 1-800-222-1222

 

Header: Councilman Daniel Rivera with Councilwoman Denise Ridley and Councilman Jermaine D. Robinson, photo by Sally Deering

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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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Coles Street Park, Reservoir #3 and Foreclosure Counseling on Council Agenda


Spring-like breezes lofted through the open windows of the Efrain Rosario Memorial Caucus Room Monday night as Jersey City’s city council gathered for its Feb. 23 caucus meeting. The council discussed several ordinances pertaining to Jersey City’s parks and recreation including an ordinance to “vacate” 17th Street for the new Coles Street Park, a grant of $750,000 from the NJ Historic Trust, and details on a shared agreement with Hudson County and other municipalities to track housing foreclosures.

Coles Street Park, rendering by Urban Architecture LLC

First on the agenda, Ordinance 20-026 to “vacate certain portions of 17th Street” for the Jersey Avenue Redevelopment Plan’s Coles Street Park. Eliminating 17th Street will create a single lot to be transformed into a campus of mixed-use buildings with a pedestrian plaza and walkway.

Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano took issue with the ordinance, stating that Jersey City already has enough parks. Although Coles Street Park will be paid for by Hoboken Brownstone Company (the developer), it will need to be maintained by Jersey City.

“That’s a big park,” Councilman Boggiano said at the top of the meeting. “We just spent $40 million on Garfield Avenue. How much is this going to cost us? Look at Pershing Field and all the things that should be done with the existing parks. I can’t see building new parks until the city takes care of the parks we already have.”

In November, Mayor Steven Fulop broke ground for Coles Street Park between 16th and 17th Streets. Urban Architecture LLC of Jersey City designed the park to include two dog runs, a playground and a stage for live performances. The park is the first phase of the Emerson Lofts development, a mixed-use property that is part of the Jersey City Redevelopment Plan.

NJ Historic Trust Grant $750,000 for Reservoir No. 3

Business Administrator
Brian Platt and Chief Landscape Architect for Jersey City Brian Weller, photo by Sally Deering

The council discussed Resolution 20-173 authorizing the acceptance of a $750,000 grant from the New Jersey Historic Trust Fund for the restoration of Reservoir No. 3, a decommissioned reserve on Bergen Hill in the Heights. 

Built between 1871 and 1874, Reservoir No. 3 was part of the city’s waterworks system designed to provide potable water to Jersey City and Ellis Island. Since it was drained, an ecosystem has evolved in its place with trees, wildflowers, swans, great blue heron, peregrine falcons and a six-acre lake.

The NJ Historic Trust Fund granted Jersey City the money to restore Reservoir No. 3’s screen house. Once the council approves the award, the city will be expected to provide $750,000 in matching funds, and once restored the screen house will be an “educational and preserved historic resource” according to the state. 

“Give me the capital account balance, the spend down on capital accounts to date and what it was originally budgeted for when the council authorized it,” Councilman at Large Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr. said. “I want to make sure we spend what we budgeted for.”

“We want to make sure at the end of day what is spent and what’s left,” Councilman Yun added.

“This grant is very competitive,” Brian Weller, director of the Jersey City Division of Architecture said. “It’s a national historic site, a local historic site, so we are going to retain an historic preservationist. That’s part of getting this grant. We have since reviewed and selected the historic preservationist for this job, so we can hit the ground running.”

Once the project is completed, the state will have final approval of the renovation, Weller said.

Foreclosures Tracking and Counseling

Ordinance 20-028 to increase the fee for registration of foreclosure property and Resolution 20-182 authorizing a shared services agreement with Hudson County for Jersey City to participate in a county-wide registration program for foreclosed properties were brought to the council’s attention by Dinah Hendon, director of the Division of Housing Preservation.

Hendon’s office uses a foreclosed property registry, but it doesn’t seem to cast a wide-enough net. She supports the resolution to enter into an agreement with Community Champions Corporation (an organization that provides project management support for municipalities) because it will bring more foreclosure properties to the city’s attention. In doing so, tenants will have their rights addressed and homeowners can participate in needed housing counseling, she said.

“This company has the programs and access to the state court records, (and) it’s going to uncover many more foreclosures and contact those banks and handle the whole registration process that we are now trying to do in house,” Hendon said.

In 2019, Hendon’s office registered 544 foreclosed properties, she said. Champion reported to her that in their initial search there were 1,700 active foreclosures in Jersey City and another 900 for which the initial data is not clear. That’s somewhere between 1,700 and 2,800 active foreclosures, and the city registered only 544. Once the contract is signed, Hendon and her staff will focus on the most important aspect that the registration requirements were meant to address: the condition of the properties, the rights of the homeowners, and the rights of the tenants on the properties.

“Very often in foreclosures, banks don’t know New Jersey’s foreclosures laws and will say unknowingly to a homeowner to contact their tenants and tell them the bank has taken over the property or some equally troublesome notice a tenant may get, when in fact tenants’ rights in New Jersey are very well settled,” Hendon said. “If a building is in foreclosure, it doesn’t change their rights as a tenant. We want to be on top of that,” she continued.

Council members in attendance:  President Joyce E. Watterman, Councilman at Large Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr., Councilman at Large Daniel Rivera, Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley, Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey, Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano, and Ward D Councilman Michael Yun.

Next Caucus Meeting:  Monday, March 9, 4 p.m.
Jersey City City Hall
280 Grove St, Jersey City
JerseyCityNJ.gov

Header:  Jersey City City Council’s Caucus Meeting in Session, Mon., Feb. 24, photo by Sally Deering

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City Council

JC Council Approves Arts Trust Fund Referendum, Laurel Court Redevelopment, and New City Clerk


At Jersey City’s Feb. 13 city council meeting, members approved a referendum for a new publicly funded arts trust fund to be on November’s ballot, voted unanimously for Sean J. Gallagher to replace retired Robert Byrne as city clerk, and approved a resolution to move forward on a plan for the redevelopment of Laurel and Saddlewood Courts in downtown Jersey City.

City Hall’s council chambers buzzed with local residents including a group of Downtown homeowners who came to address the council. They represented 37 of the 38 homeowners who want the council to pass a resolution formalizing a plan that deems their properties in need of redevelopment with possible condemnation. The developer Lennar Multifamily Communities (LMC) has made a tentative deal with the 37 homeowners to buy their homes for agreed-upon prices. In their place, LMC will build a 50-story high-rise with 810  rental apartments and 14,000 square feet of retail space, a new public park, an expanded Filipino Veterans Plaza, and a new public school for 300-350 children.

“We support the city’s plan to redevelop our block based on safety issues as well as the obsolete design of the buildings,” homeowner Tommy Tran said. “All of us have been working so hard with the city’s planner to come up with a solution to this problem. I want to state we’re very knowledgeable about what we’re getting into.”

Tran talked to the council about the 38th homeowner who has refused to work with the other homeowners. Trans said the homeowner, a developer, doesn’t live on the property but bought a home there “with the intention to really bully us.”

“It was like, ‘If I don’t build on this block, nobody builds on this block’,” Tran said, referring to him. “We couldn’t deal with that. Our properties are obsolete. It’s been a long journey. I hope you can help us. Your vote today means a tremendous amount to us.”

Founder and CEO of the Shuster Group of Jersey City, Eyal Shuster is the 38th homeowner against the redevelopment plan. He attended the council meeting, and when it was his turn at the podium, he spoke out against the resolution, saying the city was treating him unjustly. If the resolution is approved, the council will then consider acquiring Shuster’s property through eminent domain.

“The city is unfairly and illegally favoring a competing developer and assisting its interference with our six-year effort to develop Saddlewood Court,” Shuster told the council. “With your vote today, you are not condemning my property, you’re condemning my livelihood and the livelihood of over 100 people who work in my office, 50 percent of which are Jersey City residents.”

Councilman Michael Yun showed his support for the redevelopment plan but warned the homeowners that he would not approve a tax abatement if the request came before the Council.

“Thirty-seven our of 38 homeowners want to redevelop their area,” Councilman Yun said. “I respect that. If 37 of 38 people look for redevelopment of their area, they deserve to have it, but don’t come back to the City of Jersey City looking for a tax abatement. You are not going to be happy.”

The council approved the resolution.

Art Tax Makes the Ballot

The council approved a referendum on November’s election day ballot allowing Jersey City residents to decide whether or not they want the city to establish an “Art Trust Fund,” an arts and culture initiative similar to the 2016 Open Space Trust Fund.  The council voted 8-1 in favor of the referendum with Councilman Boggiano voting “no.”

“We have enough taxes,” Boggiano said.

The fund would support local artists and arts education and would be paid for by the city’s homeowners and businesses at a maximum rate of $.02 per $100 of assessed property value. Mayor Steven Fulop supported the measure.

Three Minutes, Please

Josephine Paige addresses
the council, photo by Sally Deering

In a 6-2 vote, the council approved the first reading of an ordinance that would impose a three-minute limit on all members of the public wishing to speak at the second readings of ordinances at council meetings. The ordinance also includes a five-minute limitation on all members of the public “wishing to speak on the adoption of the budget and on any amendments to the budget”. Prior to the vote there had been no time limit on such opportunities. Several Jersey City residents spoke out against the restrictions, including Jeanne Daly of Jersey City.

“I think the three-minute limitation is unacceptable,” Daly began. “We have 275,000 residents in Jersey City, and the fact that 25 of us come to speak, you should consider yourself lucky. If everyone showed up, then we’d really have a problem.”

Daly admonished the council for not sponsoring ordinances and resolutions. There doesn’t seem to be enough time for the council members to research what they’re voting on, she said.

“You have the resolutions,” Daly said, “(and yet) it’s sometimes us, the residents, that have to look that up for you and then come in front of you and give you the facts. Council members are supposed to sponsor ordinances. This is what they’re supposed to be doing. If you do, you’ve done your homework.”

Appoint or Elect, Voters to Decide

Several Jersey City residents spoke out against the resolution passed last month by the council to approve a referendum for an appointed School Board. The referendum will be placed on November’s ballot, and if Jersey City residents vote in favor of it, Mayor Fulop will have the power to appoint the nine members of the school board for four-year terms (or longer) starting July 1, 2021.

“An appointed (school) board will leave the public with no say or input in the decisions made by the board,” Paige said. “With an elected board you can change members every year. With an appointed board, the same is not true. Members may remain on the board for as long as the mayor wishes, regardless of public discontent. Your vote will no longer count or have any impact.”

New City Clerk

New City Clerk Sean J. Gallagher, photo by Sally Deering

The council voted 9-0 to approve Sean J. Gallagher as city clerk, replacing the retired Robert Byrne. Gallagher worked with Byrne for 22 years and credits him for the inspiration to move up the ladder at city hall.

Council President Joyce E. Watterman cast a “yes” vote after thanking Robert Byrne for his service to Jersey City.

“Sean, I know you have great shoes to fill,” President Watterman said, as Gallagher stood at the podium. “You have a way of solving problems, and I do appreciate that. You always have something positive to say, and you come up with a solution, and that’s what you need, people who come up with solutions so they can move the city forward.”

With the unanimous vote cast, and to resounding applause, Gallagher accepted the appointment, with his wife, Laura, and son, Sean, watching from the front row of the public gallery.

“I definitely have really big shoes to fill,” Gallagher said in his acceptance speech. “Robert Byrne, without him I wouldn’t exist in the clerk’s office. He taught me well. I’ve worked with Robert for 22 years. He gave me the aspirations to move up. I would love to thank my wife, Laura, my son, Sean, and my brother William who introduced the family to Jersey City politics 25 years ago.”

Resolution Honors West Indies Festival

The council approved a resolution honoring Cheryl Murphy, founder and president of the West Indian Caribbean American Carnival Association in Jersey City, and the association itself upon its twenty-fifth anniversary . The nonprofit hosts an annual parade and festival featuring health screenings and entertainment and an annual business conference on finance, taxes, insurance, and maintaining “healthy” stores.

“We appreciate all that you do for the Caribbean community in Jersey City,” Councilwoman Denise Ridley said. Council President Watterman cast the final “yes” vote.

“Every year Cheryl’s here making sure that this parade and culture is noticed, and for that I commend you.,” President Watterman said. “So often, we get weary. We get tired, but you’ve been faithful. Congratulations for 25 years. I wish you 25 more.”

With a 9-0 vote, Council passed the resolution.

In attendance: Council President Joyce E. Watterman, Councilman at Large Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr., Councilman at Large Daniel Rivera, Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley, Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey, Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano, Ward D Councilman Michael Yun, Ward E Councilman James Solomon, Ward F Councilman Jermaine D. Robinson; and City Clerk Sean J. Gallagher.

Next Council Meeting: Wed, Feb. 26, 6 p.m.
Jersey City City Council Chambers
City Hall
280 Grove Street, JC
For more info: https://jerseycitynj.gov

Header:  Thursday’s Jersey City Council Meeting comes to order, photos Sally Deering

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Mayor Steven

Arts Trust Fund, New Hotel and Redevelopment on Council Agenda


Mayor Steven M. Fulop Wants Voters to Decide Fate of Arts Trust Fund

The Jersey City Council’s Caucus meeting held Monday night included resolutions to convert a 5-story residential building into a boutique hotel, and a redevelopment plan for 37 homes in downtown Jersey City. An hour into the meeting, held in the Efrain Rosario Memorial Caucus Room in City Hall, Mayor Steven M. Fulop stopped by to discuss the Arts Trust initiative that could bring in an estimated $800,000 a year for non-profit arts groups.

Accompanied by Director of Jersey City’s Division of Cultural Affairs Christine Goodman, Mayor Fulop spoke to the Council about the Arts Trust, an arts and culture trust fund similar to the 2016 Open Space Trust Fund. The Arts Trust Fund would support local artists and arts education and would be funded by taxpayers at a maximum rate of $.02 per $100 of assessed property value. Mayor Fulop and Goodman want Jersey City voters to decide ‘yes’ or ‘no’ by placing a Referendum on November’s voting ballot.

“This is something we’ve worked on with the arts council for the better part of two years now,” Mayor Fulop said, “trying to find a solution to support arts and non-profits in Jersey City with long-term sustainable funding. We met with a group of about 80 organizations last Monday.”

Ward D Councilman Michael Yun questioned why the 80 organizations couldn’t fundraise for themselves. Mayor Fulop said that a lot of the organizations don’t have the infrastructure to write the grants

“They spoke about the challenges around that,” Mayor Fulop said, “and they spoke about how difficult it is to find funding. This is a challenge arts groups face around the state and the country. We think it’s important to try and help them out because (the arts) are really crucial to a city that people want to live in.”

Goodman spoke of a “severe and pervasive funding gap that Jersey City non-profits face and have faced for a very long time on the state level”.

“(Jersey City is) on the very bottom of the funding list for counties across the state,” Goodman said. “We have Essex, a comparable county pulling in $5 million in funding. The entire County of Hudson gets $200,000 to share, so there’s a huge funding gap.”

Councilman Yun asked what the arts groups would give to Jersey City in return for the funding.

“The story is what they already do for us, “ Goodman answered. “We have theaters, dance companies, but we’d like to talk about the story of arts education. This funding stream could really help programming that reaches children and young people and exposes them to art at a greater rate than they are being exposed to now.”

Mayor Fulop said the Council would set the exact tax rate with a goal of bringing in $800,000 per year which is comparable to the tax brought in to support the Open Space Trust Fund. Councilman Yun went on to say that although it was a good initiative, his main concern was the many special taxes Jersey City residents already pay.

“We have so many special taxes now, ” Councilman Yun said. “I think it’s not the right thing to do.

Proposing a new hotel

109 Columbus Drive. Photo by Sally Deering

A proposal to change the residential use of a 24-unit building to hotel use for a proposed boutique hotel was brought before the council by Charles Harrington, lawyer for the developer. Harrington said the change from residential use to hotel use would begin the process for a redevelopment plan for 109 Christopher Columbus Drive in Ward E. If the building were to be converted to hotel use, the people living in the five-story building would face eviction once their leases expired.

“If this is passed, what will happen to them?” Council President Joyce E. Watterman asked.

Harrington said that his client would work with the residents to help them relocate.

“My client is looking at that,” Harrington said. “They have rights.”

Councilman Yun said it would be important to speak with local residents and groups like the Van Vorst Park Association to get their input on the conversion.

“I’ve met with the Van Vorst group in the past,” Harrington told the Council.  “We had a similar proposal, and at that time, 4 or 5 years ago, it was really well -received. It’s a boutique hotel concept similar to here.”

Councilman James Solomon of Ward E proposed to spend the next three days meeting with members of the community for their perspective and report back his findings at Thursday night’s Council meeting.

“Before we move forward, I would like to see a financial analysis,” Councilman Lazarro added.

Redevelopment Plan for Laurel Court and Saddlewood Court

Laurel Court, Jersey City. Photo courtesy redfin.com

The Council moved on to a resolution concerning 37 homes in Laurel Court and Saddlewood Court in downtown Jersey City’s Ward E, and the approval for redevelopment and “condemnation of the property” because the homes, built in the 1970s, are dilapidated and outdated. If approved, the homeowners could sell their homes to the developer for profit.

“(The homeowners) met with me in 2018,” Councilman Solomon said, “and 37 out of the 38 homeowners on that lot said this is what they want. That is my understanding of where we’re at.”

Councilman Lavarro said the 37 homeowners are likely motivated by an inability to afford living in Jersey City, but he disapproved of the resolution because it doesn’t justify the need for condemnation of the property. The homes under consideration would be “prized homes in other parts of the city,” he said.

“If you’re going to declare this as an area in need of redevelopment, you have to be able to justify that,” Councilman Lavarro said. “We can go out and mark every home throughout Jersey City as an area in need of redevelopment and make it a home for the affluent and the wealthy. That’s not the way I want to go about redeveloping Jersey City”

Without justification, it seems unlikely the Council will approve redevelopment.

Council President Joyce E. Watterman presided over the Caucus meeting with Councilman at Large Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr., Councilman at Large Daniel Rivera, Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley, 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 Thursday, Feb. 13, at 6 pm
Council Chambers
Jersey City Hall
280 Grove St, JC
For more info: jerseycitynj.gov

Header: Mayor Steven M. Fulop and Cultural Affairs Director Christine Goodman Address the City Council at its Caucus Meeting on Monday. Photo by Sally Deering

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Events

Jersey City Times file photo

Jersey City Council Meeting


In general, City Council meetings are held on the 2nd and 4th Wednesday of each month at 6:00 PM, unless otherwise designated.  Click here for the City’s schedule.

Council meetings are open to members of the public, who are welcome to speak at the designated public comment times.  Members of the public wishing to speak are advised to contact the City Clerk prior to the meeting.

Council caucuses are held on the 2nd and 4th Monday of each month at 4:00PM, unless otherwise designated.  The purpose of caucuses is to discuss agenda items for the upcoming meeting.  Caucuses are open to the public, however, there is no opportunity for the public to speak.  The Council may also hold closed caucuses during which the public is excluded.  In addition, the council may hold a pre-meeting caucus one-half hour prior to any scheduled council meeting.

Note that all caucuses are held in the Efrain Rosario Memorial Caucus Room, City Hall, 280 Grove Street.

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Jersey City Times file photo

Jersey City Council Meeting


In general, City Council meetings are held on the 2nd and 4th Wednesday of each month at 6:00 PM, unless otherwise designated.  Click here for the City’s schedule.

Council meetings are open to members of the public, who are welcome to speak at the designated public comment times.  Members of the public wishing to speak are advised to contact the City Clerk prior to the meeting.

Council caucuses are held on the 2nd and 4th Monday of each month at 4:00PM, unless otherwise designated.  The purpose of caucuses is to discuss agenda items for the upcoming meeting.  Caucuses are open to the public, however, there is no opportunity for the public to speak.  The Council may also hold closed caucuses during which the public is excluded.  In addition, the council may hold a pre-meeting caucus one-half hour prior to any scheduled council meeting.

VIRTUAL MEETING ADVISORY

In an effort to adhere to social distancing protocols and best practices imposed by City and State authorities due to the current health crisis, the City of Jersey City has canceled all public meetings and closed non-essential services as of March 16, 2020 until further notice.  As a result, this council meeting will be held virtually as a video conference with public access.

The March 25 meeting will be here here – Virtual Municipal Council Meeting Link

 

 

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