People for Open Government
Electronic Access Ordinance
In November 2003, members of the newly-formed POG proposed an Electronic Access Ordinance that would require the city of Hoboken to maintain a comprehensive and up-to-date website with meeting schedules, agendas, minutes, and information request forms. Citizens would be able to communicate and request information via e-mail. The proposed ordinance languished in committee for months without action. The city began adding information to its website, but citizens felt that it was not comprehensive enough, nor were postings done in a timely fashion. POG continued to push for the adoption of the ordinance that would formalize and make mandatory the process of electronic access.
The ordinance was finally introduced for first reading at the
Reform Ordinance Package
In 2004, POG created a package of reform ordinances, in cooperation with New Jersey Common Cause, with the intent of reducing the amount of money in municipal elections, and leveling the playing field among municipal candidates, as well as among developers seeking variances or redevelopment contracts, and entities seeking no-bid professional services contracts with the city. The purpose of the reform package was to lower the cost of professional service contracts, improve the quality of services provided to Hoboken, and increase the publics knowledge of, and trust in, government.
The Competitive Negotiations for Professional Services Contracts Ordinance requires that the city award all contracts or agreements to outside consultants for the provision of professional services on the basis of competitive negotiation.
The Developer Contribution Disclosure Statement Ordinance requires developers before the City Zoning or Planning boards, or taking part in redevelopment processes, to disclose contributions made to city officers and political candidates.
Most importantly, the Public Contracting Reform Ordinance restricts the amount of campaign contributions that are permitted to be made to Hoboken politicians by professional services entities that have contracts with or seek to obtain contracts from the city.
In June 2004, POG went to work throughout the city, gathering signatures from registered voter in Hoboken necessary to place the ordinance initiative on the November election ballot. Initiative, also known as popular or citizen's initiative, provides a means by which a petition signed by a certain minimum number of registered voters can force a public vote on a proposed statute, constitutional amendment, charter amendment or ordinance. The Council may approve and adopt the ordinances. If the Council declines, the proposed ordinance is placed on the ballot in the next regular election. New Jersey state law requires that petitioners gather signatures of registered Hoboken voters equal in number to at least 10% of the ballots cast in the most recent New Jersey General Assembly election. Upon receipt of the petitions, the City Clerk checks the signatures to make sure that signers are in fact registered to vote in Hoboken. POG eventually collected over 1000 signatures, more than twice the number required to get the petition certified.
City Council Votes
On July 15, 2004, the Committee of Petitioners Alice Crozier, Robert T. Duvall, Annette E. Illing, Edward J. Mecka and James D. Vance presented the reform package to the Hoboken City Clerk for certification.. The three ordinances were presented to the City Council. The Competitive Negotiation and Developer Contribution Disclosure ordinances were passed by an 8-0-1 vote and enacted into law on August 11. However, the City Council declined to enact the Public Contracting Reform law, the vote failing 3-5-1 with Councilpersons Marsh, Russo, and Soares voting for the ordinance and Campos, Cricco, Giacchi, Ramos and DelBocchio voting against (Castellano absent). The ordinance would be sent to the Hoboken voters to decide in November.
Members of the City Council subsequently sponsored their own version of the ordinance, a weaker version based on the recently passed state law. In an unprecedented move, the City Council moved to place its own ballot on the November ballot, in competition with the citizen initiated ordinance, rather than voting on the law themselves. POG initiated an action in court seeking to prevent the City from delegating its legislative authority to the voters, thereby subverting the initiative and referendum process. The trial court determined that the City Council did not have the authority to place an ordinance on the ballot to compete with the citizen-initiated ordinance.
The Hudson County Clerk then decided that two separate voting machines would be used for the general elections one for the candidates and one for the public question concerning the POG ordinance. The purported reasoning behind this move was that the ordinance language was too long to be included on the regular ballot in two languages. POG, concerned that voters might not know or take the time to cast a vote at a second machine, again went to court and demonstrated that a short summary of the ordinance was required under law to be presented to the voters. The Clerk, prior to the trial courts formal hearing on the matter, withdrew his plan to use two machines at the elections.
The ordinance was presented to Hoboken voters on November 2, 2004 and was supported by a margin of 9 to 1 (9573 votes "Yes" to 1099 votes "No"). The POG ordinance became law effective once the vote was certified.
It was understood that, following the outcome of the voting process, that the city would comply with and monitor its own compliance with the ordinance. However, the following year, the Roberts Team raised $258,700 for the May 2005 city election. When forced into a runoff, the Roberts team raised an additional $692,000, mainly from entities and individuals doing business with the city, which POG believes to be in violation of the POG ordinance.
Back To Court
On June 2, 2005, POG plaintiffs filed a "Verified Complaint of Action in Lieu of Prerogative Writ" against defendants Mayor David Roberts, Councilman Ruben Ramos and the City of Hoboken, seeking to compel defendants to disclose prohibited campaign contributions to the City Council, and enforce the ordinance. POG filed an Amended Verified Complaint on June 10, which the defendants answered on August 22. On October 24, the Hon. Maurice J. Gallipoli, A.J.S.C., granted POGs request to file a second amended complaint, and stayed all discovery pending the outcome of the defendants summary judgment motion. On October 28, POG filed their Second Amended Verified Complaint, adding Councilwoman Terry Labruno and Councilman Peter Cammarano as defendants. This complaint also asserted allegations of additional illegal campaign contributions and identified additional holders of no-bid contracts whom they sought to have defendants disclose as having made illegal contributions.
On April 12, 2006, Judge Gallipoli held oral argument and granted summary judgment. He dismissed the Second Amended Verified Complaint for lack of standing and denied plaintiffs motion to file an amended complaint. In law, standing, or locus standi, is the ability of a party to demonstrate to the court sufficient connection to and harm from the law or action challenged. As a result, the court did not resolve any of the issues raised by either of the parties regarding the interpretation and constitutionality of the Public Contract Reform Ordinance. POG is now appealing the decision. A reply brief in support of plaintiffs appeal was filed on December 11, 2006.
On January 9, 2008, the New Jersey Appellate Court reversed the lower court's ruling on standing.The Appellate Division, in an opinion delivered by Judge Harvey Weissbard, reversed the judgment and remanded the case back to the Law Division. The opinion stated that a plaintiff’s particular interest may be accorded proportionately less significance where it coincides with a strong public interest. Additionally, all plaintiffs in this case were judged to be key players in the in the “pay-to-play” initiative and to have “a sufficient particularized interest in the enforcement of the ordinance, beyond their status as ‘mere taxpayers,’ to afford them standing to pursue this lawsuit.”
Weissbard stated that the ordinance was “designed to curtail the nefarious practice of ‘pay-to-play’,” and added “If Hoboken, through its elected officials, chooses to forego enforcement of this law, then who will force them to do so? The question answers itself. We see the present action as a legitimate effort to effectuate the will of the people as reflected in the initiative which led to the Ordinance.”