By Ron Leir
NORTH ARLINGTON —
Robert Ceberio, former New Jersey Meadowlands Commission executive director, is poised to find redevelopment opportunities for his former hometown North Arlington.
Since he left his meadows job in December 2010, Ceberio has set himself up as a development consultant under the name RCM Ceberio LLC, with his wife Carol as executive vice president and former longtime North Arlington Mayor Len Kaiser as director of business development.
The RCM website describes the company as a “strategic planning and management consulting firm assisting public and private clients … in terms of projects, plans and policies. We develop strategies to meet changed circumstances, new technology, new competitors, a new economic trend, or a new social, financial or political environment.”
Sources told The Observer that Ceberio attended last Thursday’s Borough Council meeting and, after it ended, was invited into a private caucus by Mayor Joseph Bianchi to make a pitch for his company. That, in turn, led to a 6-0 council vote authorizing Borough Attorney Randy Pearce to draw up a contract.
Pearce told The Observer last week that under the proposed agreement, which he’s drafting in resolution form for the next council meeting, RCM Ceberio would be paid $2,500 a month for services as a redevelopment specialist, “including all expenses and public relations for the borough,” for up to one year.
Although Borough Administrator Stephen LoIacono told The Observer that the final terms were subject to further scrutiny by members of the governing body at the next meeting, Pearce insisted that, “It’s already a done deal.” He said it was simply a matter of transferring his handwritten notes of the terms which, he said, the council had approved, into a formal resolution.
Councilman Al Granell, one of two Democrats on the governing body, told The Observer he felt the selection process was flawed because the borough didn’t circulate an RFP (Request for Proposals) for the work and, when asked about this, Ceberio – who made an unsuccessful bid as a GOP nominee for Passaic County freeholder in November 2011 – told The Observer he was advised by Pearce that as long as he was abiding by state “Pay to Play” rules by not making any political donations to local pols, his firm could then be considered for a contract.
Mayor Bianchi, who had vowed to make redevelopment a priority during last year’s mayoralty campaign, is now acting on part of that pledge and he said last week he’s working on the next phase: creating an eight-member Redevelopment Board.
Bianchi acknowledged that the borough had not put out a formal solicitation or advertisement to recruit someone for the job but said that he felt the choice was obvious.
“Who better to hire than the man who was the head of the Meadowlands Commission? … If I went and hired somebody from another community, what would they know about North Arlington? Bob Ceberio was a resident of North Arlington for 40 years and I know he will do the best he can to get us new ratables. I can’t do it and neither can any member of the [Borough] Council. And he was hired unanimously, 6-0. Who better to get North Arlington moving in the right direction? He’ll help develop our meadows. This is his profession.”
Bianchi said Ceberio’s firm has done redevelopment-related work for Kearny, Secaucus and Wayne. (In Kearny, Ceberio did what Mayor Alberto Santos described as a preliminary analysis of potential uses – primarily warehousing – for the old Standard Chlorine parcel acquired by the town.)
Granell said he didn’t have a problem with hiring someone to advise on redevelopment opportunities, “but the mayor said [Ceberio] is his guy and I have a real problem with him on that,” because of what he characterized as the roles Ceberio and Kaiser played in advancing the EnCap/Cherokee development project in the North Arlington, Lyndhurst and Rutherford meadows, which ended in bankruptcy.
The EnCap/Cherokee venture stirred bitter resentment among local businesses in the borough who, at the time, were threatened with condemnation of their properties to make way for a big residential complex which, in the end, was never built.
Ceberio shrugged aside the “EnCap Bob” moniker he said he was unfairly saddled with in the wake of the disastrous project because the part of the project that impacted North Arlington was “outside the meadowlands district,” and was within the control of municipal officials. “The local people should not have signed the [contract] documents,” he said.
If there’s a lesson to be learned from that experience, Ceberio said, it is, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
For his work In North Arlington, Ceberio said he will be reviewing “any of the borough’s redevelopment plans still on the books to determine if any of these plans fits in today’s market” while, at the same time, focusing on properties in those redevelopment zones that may be deemed useful to outside clients, but “all within the context of what local elected officials and residents would like to see.”
Then, he said, “I would come up with recommendations on potential priorities and develop a strategy to sit down with potential developers and/ or equity investors to mix and match.” He would also explore whether local zoning regulations “can be changed to reflect today’s economic times.” An overarching goal would be “to upgrade the downtown corridor, from the [Belleville] Pike forward.”
Asked if he had in mind specific properties, Ceberio said: “You look at everything in the redevelopment zone. Maybe you bring in something and move properties around it.” But he said it would be wrong for him to arbitrarily proceed on a strategy, especially without first getting public input. Otherwise, he said, “I’d be prejudging.”
One message that Ceberio said he’s heard “from recent campaigns” is that “affordable housing is not something [that North Arlington residents] want to see here.” But senior citizen housing might be a desirable alternative, he added.
Asked how Kaiser would fit into his North Arlington job scope, Ceberio said: “Lenny works for me as a guy out there trying to get business for me. He makes contacts. But all the work here will be done by me or my son. Lenny’s more of a subcontractor, not even an employee.” Kaiser’s expertise will be called on as needed, he said.
Citing a recent South Bergen survey that listed North Arlington and Rutherford as “highest in growth of property taxes,” Ceberio said he hoped that his work for the borough would “get that distinction out of the way and get some good ratables here.”
Ceberio, who served five years with the N.J. Sports & Exposition Authority, supervising racetrack activities, before moving to the NJMC where he worked 29 years until his retirement Jan. 1, 2011, collects an annual state pension of $75,605, state records show.
He currently lives in Wayne where he sits on the Wayne Board of Education and the Wayne Economic Development Commission. He is also involved with the Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce.