Hundreds Turn Out for City Council Meeting and a Budget is Finally Passed
The courtroom at City Hall was packed to capacity, mostly with members of the Palestinian community, for Tuesday night’s City Council meeting. Anticipated discussion on the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism had led to a “Call to Action” from the Palestinian American Community Center and attendants spilled out into the hallway. During the earlier work session, Council indicated that they had all received many communications since the last meeting from people in favor of its adoption and those opposed to it. Councilman Joe Kolodziej moved to table the issue due to its controversial nature and instead, to send it over to the Civil Rights Committee for discussion. This advisory committee was established in response to the controversy surrounding the mural at the Allwood Road Park and Ride in the summer of 2021.
Slow to get started, the committee did not have its first meeting until Spring 2023. Councilwoman and Chair of the committee Rosemary Pino said that the group is still in its infancy and not prepared for the task. “We’re not equipped to handle this,” she said, adding that it wouldn’t be fair to make the public wait on a decision. Kolodziej pushed back, suggesting that having these difficult conversations is precisely why the committee was formed and questioning why it exists at all if it cannot take on issues like this. He clarified that he wasn’t expecting a decision right away and acknowledged that the committee would need time to set its bylaws and work on the definition before developing a recommendation.
After some discussion, Councilman Tony Latona made a motion to rescind the resolution entirely, removing it from the Council’s hands. “Our job is to serve all of the residents…this does not belong here,” he said. Pino offered a second and following a vote, the definition was removed from consideration by Council.
At the start of the 8:00 regular session, with people filling the aisles and still more outside, Mayor Ray Grabowski announced that the resolution on adopting the IHRA definition had been pulled and would not be discussed further. City Manager Nick Villano reiterated this once Council had taken their seats and the room had quieted. That did not deter the many speakers who came to the podium, some taking the opportunity to discuss the conflict between Israel and Palestine and others focusing more squarely on the need to address antisemitism and hate in all its forms.
Following the councilors’ personal comments, Councilwoman Lauren Murphy, who attended the meeting virtually due to an ongoing medical issue, revisited the budget issue and made a motion for an increase of four tax points. She explained that although she believed the city needed a larger increase, she could see that there would never be the needed support and saw this as a necessary compromise. When asked for comments, Murphy said, “For seven months we’ve been going back and forth and we never can agree on anything. We need to raise the taxes because we have to worry about getting through this year and next year when all the Covid money is gone. We need to get this done and we really don’t want the state to come in. They could say zero taxes or they could say 12 points.”
Latona seconded the motion and Kolodziej questioned how the city was going to make up the million dollars that would be cut by lowering the tax points from six to four. City Manager Nick Villano cautioned that next year, without the COLA ordinance which the council had previously failed to pass, the city would be in a tougher spot. During roll call, Gibson, Latona, and Grabowski supported Murphy’s motion. Kolodziej and Sadrakula voted no and Pino abstained. The motion carried and the budget was finally approved with four tax points.
The Open Space Tax was brought to a vote and passed unanimously. This vote allows for the question to be placed before the voters in November, who will decide whether or not to support the creation of an Open Space Fund in Clifton. This fund would be supported by a special tax - amounting to an average of $18 for the year on the average assessed home - and could only be used for one of the specific purposes outlined by law. The goal of this fund, said Kolodziej when he proposed it at the last meeting, would be to fund improvements to Clifton’s parks and playgrounds, making all of the city’s playgrounds ADA-compliant and inclusive. It could also be used to help fund a city museum, an idea championed by resident Gary Perino and supported by Sadrakula.
Earlier in the evening, the City Council meeting opened for their work session with many residents in attendance to observe and started with several entertainment license requests. An entertainment license allows businesses to have “entertainment of any kind or nature” on their premises and generally applies to bars and restaurants wishing to have live music or disc jockeys. Aruba Lounge and Spuntino’s were both granted this license but a decision on Clifton City Tavern, which had 13 recorded incidents involving a police response, was tabled. Neighbors within 200 feet of the bar will be notified of the application to give them a chance to speak at a future meeting if they desire. City Attorney Matt Priore said that the police sometimes use the nearest address when responding to a complaint, so Council needs to get more details in order to most fairly decide if those complaints were directly related to Clifton City Tavern. Councilman Bill Gibson said that it’s also important to get a police report indicating whether each complaint was founded or unfounded.
The council approved the Peruvian flag raising for 12 noon on Saturday, July 22nd.
The Theater League of Clifton’s musical production “The Prom” has its final shows at Clifton High School this weekend, July 21, 22, and 23. Showtime is 7:30 on Friday and Saturday and 2 pm on Sunday.
On August 31st at 8 pm, Clifton Against Substance Abuse (CASA) will again host its annual vigil in remembrance of those lost to drug overdose and in support of the families who have been devastated by addiction. The community is invited to come to City Hall for this somber and important event.