City Cracks Down on Loud Parties; Councilwoman Claims Discrimination from Colleagues
Tuesday night’s City Council meeting was long, ending just before midnight with unfinished business that will carry over to the next meeting. There were a number of items on the agenda which led to prolonged discussions and, as the night wore on, tempers ran hot and patience, short. Council members and administration shouted at and over each other and one motion to restructure the legal department and eliminate two positions was thrown out altogether after Mayor Ray Grabowski declared it to be out of order.
Earlier in the evening, the council approved several events, including a block party on Belrose Court on August 19th, a flag-raising ceremony for Ukraine on August 24th, and two separate carnivals. A Bloomfield resident with former ties to the area will host a carnival in Botany’s Randolph Park from August 31st through September 4th, despite some objections about the uncertainty of where the proceeds were going. An application from the Latino Leaders of Clifton, with which Councilwoman Rosemary Pino is involved, to host a carnival at Main Memorial Park from September 21st through the 24th was approved with just one objection. Councilman Joe Kolodziej expressed his concern about the location, as there is a CHS football game scheduled for the Friday night date. The Clifton Police Department has already indicated that they could not approve that date because they won’t have enough officers to cover both the stadium and the carnival. Pino later singled him out for his vote, claiming that this event faced extra scrutiny and was the victim of discrimination.
For both events, organizers will be responsible for carrying the necessary insurance, hiring at least two off-duty officers to provide security, and ensuring that the areas are cleaned up at the event’s end.
During the regular session, the Council took a first step toward addressing loud, disruptive parties in a more meaningful way by approving for a first reading ordinance O-7846-23. This ordinance amends Chapter 332 of the City Code and reads, “Unruly social gatherings prohibited. Unruly social gatherings shall constitute a public nuisance in the City of Clifton and no person shall be permitted to have a social gathering or party at any property located in the City which interferes with, or otherwise disturbs the peace, quiet, and comfort of any neighboring property owner or tenant.” If approved, this ordinance would give the Clifton Police the authority to issue fines for offending parties without needing to prove that the generated noise went beyond a specific decibel level.
There was no discussion about what constitutes an “unruly” gathering, who would make that determination in each case, or when this could go into effect. The city manager responded quickly to a request for more information, indicating that he wanted an explanation from legal, but that explanation was not yet available at the time of publishing.
During public comments, resident Donna Popowich addressed another nuisance issue; that of inappropriately placed or sized political campaign signs. Although months away, these signs are already popping up around the city, prompting her to find the relevant state code: N.J. Admin. Code § 19:31C-3.9 reads, “Political signs: Signs for political parties, propositions, referendums, or candidates for election may be erected and maintained, provided that the size of any such sign is not in excess of six square feet in size and three feet in height. Political signs may be posted 30 days prior to Election Day and must be removed within seven days after Election Day. All political signs must be located so as not to obstruct sight triangles. Political signs are not permitted on publicly owned property.”
Popowich said that signs which don’t conform to this code should be removed by the city and specified that since parks are public property, she expected to see no campaign signs at Main Memorial Park during the approved carnival.
During the council’s privilege, Pino offered an update on CHIP, which was discussed in detail HERE. She shared the good news that HUD will reimburse the city for translation services related to the CHIP application process, answering the question some had at the last meeting. Pino took the opportunity to again suggest that some of her colleagues were acting discriminatorily by attempting to deny needed translation services to non-English speaking residents. This came moments after Councilwoman Lauren Murphy’s comments, in which she explained that she had voted no only because she needed more information.
During his comments, Mayor Ray Grabowski directly addressed Pino’s accusations, clarifying for the public that the council members who voted no to hiring a translation service at the last meeting were only voting not to hire them at the taxpayers’ expense. “We didn’t say that we didn’t want it,” he said, and “we did not vote against it on a racial thing.” Grabowski added that since that last meeting, several attorneys, who are proficient in multiple languages, reached out to the city to offer their services pro bono (at no cost).
Returning to unfinished business from the work session, the council again grappled with renewal of the BAN (Bond Anticipation Note). Sadrakula attempted to have discussion of the BAN removed from the agenda, despite Priore relating that bond counsel had prepared the resolution for City Council and that it was urgent to approve this standard resolution.
Without renewing the BAN, which is typically done each year, capital projects cannot be completed and new bonds may not be issued for future projects. The city would also be at risk of losing grant money that would need to be repaid if the city can’t make contractual deadlines.
Villano explained, as he did at the last meeting, that the BAN is required to cover past debts so that the city can fulfill its obligations. Most of the councilors easily agreed to renew while a visibly agitated Latona “reluctantly” voted to renew. “This is absolute bull,” Sadrakula said, offering the lone opposition vote.
Latona asked for approval to host a Town Hall meeting with the neighbors living in Richfield, the leaders of the busy Islamic Center of Passaic County on Pershing Road, the CPD, the CFD, and City Hall officials to discuss issues with parking, parking tickets, and safety for pedestrians in the area. Latona said that worshippers should not have to worry about coming out of their mosque to a ticketed car and residents of the neighborhood shouldn’t have to worry about having access to their own driveways or there being enough room for emergency vehicles to access their streets. A preliminary date was set for September 12th with a backup date of the 26th, with the hope that this would be enough lead time for all interested parties to coordinate.
In a course correction from the last meeting, where the Open Space Tax question failed to get its needed four votes, Sadrakula motioned to amend the resolution and to vote again. She objected to the line which indicated that for the average assessed home, this tax would amount to $17.95 per year and asked to have it removed, leaving only the fact that the Open Space Tax would allow the city to collect “one cent per hundred dollars of assessed real property value.” With this amended language, the resolution passed. The question of whether or not to create the Open Space Fund will appear on the November ballot and voters will have the power to decide. You can read more about this fund HERE.
To figure out how a special Open Space Tax would affect your tax bill, follow these easy steps:
1. Determine your home’s assessed value. Note that this is a very different number than the market value. You can find this number on your tax card, which every homeowner should have received in January.
You can also find it by visiting THIS PAGE. Where it says, “Search by Location,” enter your home address and click “search.” (You may need to use an abbreviation for Street, Place, Avenue, etc.) That search will produce a chart. “Total Value” is the number you need.
2. Compute the tax increase. Divide your assessed value (“Total Value”) by 100. Multiply that new number by .01. The result is the dollar amount by which your municipal taxes would increase per year to support a dedicated Open Space Fund in Clifton.
The next meeting will be on Tuesday, September 5th at 6:30.