Chaos at City Council Meeting
Last night’s council meeting at times looked more like an episode of the Maury Povich show than a City Council meeting, minus anyone hearing, “You are NOT the father.” Public comments, almost all of them pointing to serious issues with the city and its leadership, lasted three hours, and at one point, several police officers had to rush in to prevent a violent altercation between a public speaker and members of Councilwoman Rosemary Pino’s family.
Last week posts circulated on Facebook, imploring the community to show up and wear red to “Save Clifton.”
Frustrated residents came to the microphone to address the Council on continued issues with flooding, reports of illegal dwellings in attics and basements, cell phone use on the dais, remote access for public participation during meetings, parking shortages on their streets, loud music, the burden of rising taxes, and safely marked crosswalks. A couple of young people spoke about the lack of information from City Hall to the younger population, the need for access to open and working bathrooms and water fountains in our city parks, and enforcement of fair working conditions. One recent graduate of Clifton High School said that some local businesses are taking advantage of “young and naive” workers like herself, saying that she’s been the victim of wage theft and has been deprived of legally mandated breaks while on the job.
Many residents directly criticized the Council for their ongoing failure to tend to city business with professionalism. Gerard Scorziello shared a quick story about the amazing work scientists did to launch a space capsule, which collected a sample from an asteroid and brought it back to Earth to be studied. “How is it that thousands of scientists can come together in cooperation,” he asked, “but we can’t even get seven to work together?” “You don’t have to be the best; just be good,” he added. “It’s not rocket science; just good government.”
Chris D’Amato, sharing the sense of despair and hopelessness he has observed from people who come before the Council, said, “We must shatter political barriers, and strengthen the broader public trust. While you seven may not be the cause of all of our problems, you have not yet demonstrated yourselves prepared to meet this critical moment and build Clifton into a bedrock of resilience and unity for our families to rely upon in the difficult years ahead.”
Lily D’Amato, who always comes to the mic with possible solutions, reminded the council that there are many things they could be doing that don’t require funding, just time. She asked for transparency, check-ins with the people who live near Third River following a catastrophic rainfall, a mission statement with clear goals, not entertaining wage increases when the city is on a “bare-bones budget,” equal and fair enforcement of all laws for citizens and businesses, and a resolution to address the issue of antisemitism. D’Amato has spoken about this several times before, challenging the Council to pick up where they left off when they tabled the IHRA definition of antisemitism over the summer.
“How are we doing on a resolution to support the Jewish community in Clifton? I’m not going to fight for the IHRA definition because your stance has been made clear: the Jewish community didn’t show up in droves, so the dissent won. What are you going to do to support us? What is your solution, and how do we make it a resolution? What will it take to get you to see this through and support us?”
Later in the meeting during Council privilege, Councilwoman Mary Sadrakula said that they need a definition of antisemitism and asked that it be added as an agenda item for the next meeting.
David Joseph, who had been removed from a WhatsApp chat for the Civil Rights Committee members by Councilwoman Pino, directly addressed the letter that he and seven others had received from Pino’s attorney. In that cease-and-desist notice, he and others (including three elected officials) were accused of making defamatory comments about her on social media. “Councilwoman Pino, you and I both know this letter holds no legal bearing and is just a scare tactic to try to silence people with valid questions about your actions. The truth is not defamatory, even if it casts you in a negative light. A council member trying to threaten and intimidate the residents you are sworn to serve is a new low for our community,” he said. “Now, Councilwoman Pino, I want to see if you will hold yourself accountable. Will you instruct your attorney to immediately release every statement that I and every person named in this letter made that you claim to be false? Let the public see.”
Several other speakers addressed what they saw as misconduct by Pino, both relating to the Hispanic Heritage Carnival which they say doubled as a campaign event on public property, and to her failure to file required documents as part of her campaigns. JoAnne MacBeth said that necessary expense reports had not been filed with ELEC (Election Law Enforcement Commission), despite evidence that a significant amount of money had been spent on t-shirts, signs, and other campaign materials.
According to this database, Pino has not filed any expense records for her 2022 election for City Council, her primary race for County Clerk, or for the general election in November. For the 2022 election, every other council member has records on file except for Mary Sadrakula. Candidates do not need to report if their total expenditures are less than $5,800 and Sadrakula confirmed that her expenditures were within that limit. A request for comment from Pino was not immediately answered and it’s unclear whether this applies to her, as well. This story will be updated if and when she responds.
In her comments, Judy Bassford recounted the many hoops she had to go through as HSA president when she wanted to host a large event for School #5. She said that she called the Legalized Games of Chance Control Commission and found out that Latino Leaders did not have a gambling license or permission to host a raffle at the carnival at Main Memorial Park. “The Commission oversees the operation of games conducted pursuant to the Bingo and Raffles Licensing Laws by approximately 12,000 charitable, educational, religious, patriotic, public-spirited organizations and senior citizen associations and organizations currently registered to conduct legalized games of chance, such as bingo games and raffles, throughout the state.” During her council privilege, Pino admitted that they did not have the required license.
When council meeting regular Bart Ciervo stood to deliver his comments, the first was directed to Mayor Ray Grabowski. “You talk the talk but don’t walk the walk,” he said, chastising the mayor for not throwing people out of the meeting when they became disruptive. Moments later, Pino’s husband shouted out from his seat at Ciervo, who then walked toward him as Pino’s husband, Eric Oliver, and one of her adult children lunged at him. Police rushed in to the chambers to restrain the two men as Ciervo stood by and after approximately 30 seconds, Grabowski prompted Pino to intervene. Ciervo and Pino’s two relations were removed from the room by police and the meeting was recessed for a short time to regain order.
During her comments, Pino started by apologizing for her family’s behavior. “I want to sincerely apologize for the behavior of my family…of my husband…That is unacceptable,” she said. She alleged that Ciervo had made a graphic and vulgar comment about her on social media, which caused her husband to “lose his cool.”
Pino defended her decision to host the carnival through her organization, Latino Leaders of Clifton, saying that it was meant to unite the city. She claimed to be unaware that political campaigning was not permitted on public property, citing several other events where it was allowed for her and for others. “We all deserve a seat at the table,” she said, as explanation for the creation of the non-profit.
City Council next meets on Tuesday, October 17th. The work session starts at 6:30 in the conference room and the public meeting starts at 8:00 in the courtroom at City Hall.