Budget Meeting Post Mortem: Hydra in Da House

Last night, Hoboken witnessed the final death throes of the City Council chaired by Councilwoman Beth Mason and led in circles by her ally, the man who barely escaped bribery arrest, Councilman Mike Russo. It was a budget meeting but it might as well been a Fellini movie scripted by the Sopranos.
Even with a new council majority about to enter on July 1, the egos, grandstanding and remnants of the Beth Russo legacy are still with us. There’s no professional standard to maintain let alone improve Hoboken’s bond rating with financial agencies – the efforts by that Old Guard of which Beth Mason is now firmly a part, means Hoboken may again be riding in testy financial waters if they have their way.
The City Council is still dealing with the Beth Russo hydra
The meeting result, no action after over four hours of discussions and it ended with divisions on the percentage of surplus to be retained. Of the financial view of municipal industry professionals, it’s the reform minority attempting to improve Hoboken’s bond rating currently situated but one level above junk.
The Old Guard forces meanwhile just want to break below the 5% minimum recommended by industry professionals and advocated by Mayor Zimmer. Their professional recommendation is based on, is derived from, well there’s isn’t one, it’s completely arbitrary whim.
Their clear objective is to take some credit for returning money to taxpayers in a one shot refund even if it leads to more financial problems and larger taxes next year. That’s the political formula they swim in and they’re obviously comfortable doing so. Pointing the finger and blaming others later will be no problem for them whatsoever. Setting the City up for failure in the next budget year with higher taxes is of no concern, in fact that may be their only true objective here.
Councilman Nino Giacchi picked a number of $1.5 million to retain as a surplus, a figure equal in percentage terms to the budget and late in the evening tried to advocate that as a compromise. Unfortunately, it’s not based on any municipal professionally advised standard. When asked by Councilman Peter Cunningham how he came to such a figure, he had no professional assessment to base his position. He was joined by Councilwoman Terry Castellano in this arbitrary selection.
This was posited as reasonable considering Councilman Mike Russo’s complete irresponsible urgings through the course of the evening ranging from putting the city into a $1 million deficit immediately eliminating all the surplus to cutting $500,000 in both Directors jobs and salaries. We discovered he’s also against any bonding whatsoever. None of this matters as Mike Russo can turn on a dime and pretend what he said five seconds ago is completely consistent with what he’s saying contrary five seconds later.
Council Chair, Beth Mason let him run roughshod all night, talking over his colleagues, playing gotcha games with the professionals instead of asking questions and the July 1 timeframe with 6th ward Councilwoman-elect Jen Giattino arriving will be the only sane remedy to any of it.
Councilwoman Beth Mason who has shown herself to be both inept and partisan throughout her brief and limited time controlling the gavel, stayed consistent in her tenure last night. At one point, Councilman Dave Mello was incensed at her attempt to silence him inquiring why she refuses to apply any consistent standard whatsoever to Mike Russo.
Finance Director Nick Trasente was a tower of patience while at times refusing to be drawn into the usual rhetorical games by Councilman Mike Russo on the budget and urging fiscal responsibility from all its members. Of course that fell on deaf ears as is often the case when political agendas are the sole order of the day. Here once again was one of the most embarrassing displays of late, showing why Hoboken voters who are not part of the subsidized class need to make their mark and demand competence at the voting booth at election time.
The bad moments in this meeting are too numerous to mention. One of the worst was after the Finance Director asked after the current budget was introduced why the Council didn’t avoid all this wasted time and energy and bring some spending cuts to the table? Mike Russo’s response, “It’s not our responsibility,” about sizes it up.

It is the City Council’s responsibility as it controls the purse, but this ‘majority’ consists of the people who never do the hard work of making spending cuts. Beth Russo isn’t about to do so now.
At the next City Council meeting, several resolutions will be presented as amendments to the budget. None have the needed five votes, from the 5% minimum surplus recommended by municipal industry professionals and the Administration, to a 1% surplus being presented as “reasonable” as a counter to Mike Russo’s “destroy the city’s fiscal footing” plan.
Talking Ed Note: It’s hard to watch these ugly proceedings and think Hoboken is the consideration. Frankly, it’s not. This is about Beth Russo attempting to prevent a “win” for Mayor Zimmer even if it means a solid fiscal position for Hoboken.
This hasn’t changed from the day she was elected mayor. Whether it’s Corner Cars, obtaining open space, or something as clear straight forward as the budget, the only objective is to play politics.
It’s all these two ever seem to do.

Here’s the 20 minute finale of the meeting:

TEN 2: Beth Russo is the term coined by our colleague at The Hoboken Journal to describe the multi-headed hydra of a political alliance. As Beth Mason has morphed more and more into an Old Guard pro-subsidized housing Russo Civic Association status quo ally, the two are more akin to dealing with one mythical beast.
To be fair, this is a natural alliance now proven at the ballot box. Councilwoman Beth Mason garnered less votes in this 2nd ward election than she did when she ran last. She would have been easily defeated if not for the Russo-Ramos effort to turn out large numbers of votes in Applied Housing.
Although it’s a smaller subsidized housing base overall compared to other parts of Hoboken, it was Applied Housing votes saving Beth Mason from defeat. With 2nd ward registered voters numbering 5,600 and her power of incumbency along with an unknown fortune spent, she barely escaped a runoff against first time candidate Tom Greaney not even getting 700 votes.
The Russo’s own her now.

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