If you were watching the Zoom-based Kearny Town Council meeting on April 27, you might have thought, for a moment, we’d gone back in time about a decade or two. That’s because the public portion of the meeting — where members of the public are permitted to speak for up to 10 minutes — spiraled into a shout-fest, much like meetings often did in that era (but really haven’t since.)
Two of the speakers were old pros — former Councilman James Mangin and attorney John Pinho. The other was a relative newcomer to the scene, Democratic mayoral hopeful Sydney J. Ferreira.
Mangin was the first of the troika to speak and when he did, he seemed to insinuate the town’s budgetary surplus was being underreported by the town. (The town’s 2021 budget was introduced at the same meeting.)
Mangin, who currently serves as the chief financial officer for the City of Hackensack, said he was “confused” by a press release the town recently sent out — and that was reported by this newspaper — that said after 2019, the surplus was $11.9 million. However, Mangin claimed the town’s 2019 fiscal audit revealed the surplus was actually $6.1 million.
Mayor Alberto G. Santos responded by saying Mangin was “correct,” but further explained the discrepancy.
“We went from $8.3 million in 2010 to $11.9 million in 2019,” Santos said, referring back to the Moody’s rating, the information from which was released by the company itself, not the town, a few weeks ago. The surplus rose to “$16 million in 2020,” Santos said. “This represents a material improvement over the past five years” or a 228% increase over the past five years. I would ask you to find any municipality in the state of New Jersey who has had their fund balance go up 228%.”
Mangin, however, continued to press Santos as to why the town’s audit and Moody’s press release revealed differing surplus figures for 2019.
The mayor responded by noting the town saved through attrition — where retiring employees weren’t replaced — “conservative budgeting,” and “a strong tax base growth (that) has given the town tremendous flexibility to cut taxes, and thus encourages even more development, while not actually losing any revenue.”
He also noted while 2020 information is not yet available, Moody’s reported the town is “largely unimpacted and strong tax collections are noteworthy since property taxes are the largest source of revenue” despite a global pandemic that practically and negatively affected the entire world.
Still, Mangin would not relent.
“Your surplus is not $11 million,” he said, his voice raised.
“You’re wrong, Jim,” Santos replied.
In the 2000s, Mangin and Santos often sparred at council meetings when the latter was a Democratic representative of Kearny’s Third Ward. To view the entire exchange between the two, visit www.kearnynj.org.
After Mangin spoke, Pinho was next.
He asked Santos if he “wanted to apologize to him (Mangin) for not heeding his warning on the Keegan Landfill so many years ago? That was my question.”
Before Santos responded, he asked Lyla DeCastro, who was serving as the town clerk in Patricia Carpenter’s absence, whether Pinho was “muted.” When she said “yes,” he responded.
“That was creative history,” Santos said. “We took action to fight for the future of the landfill and it was a community fight. We were successful as everyone in this community knows. This is a landfill that opened in 1950 that took all sorts of waste, including chemicals, petroleum waste on-site, that (inaudible) into the Kearny Marsh. …It stopped in the 1970s … but the landfill was never properly closed. But the liability (to do so) was over $30 million to build a Slurry Wall and a cap. That was never done, never done by any prior administration.”
Santos noted that in 2005, there was a deal in place to close it, to build the wall and cap it, with the-then New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, which evolved into the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.
“The sports authority didn’t want to stop landfilling because it was a revenue source for them,” despite the 2005 agreement with the town. Santos noted the town took the NJSEA to court and lost its fight and the landfill remained open until late 2019.
“Now that we’re approaching the final closing, … there’s this narrative, this effort, to blame the current administration, or me, for something that’s just not true,” Santos said. “… To now try to change this narrative, at a public setting, to score a political point, in a political campaign, I think it’s unfortunate, but I guess it’s the times we live in and I have the right to defend myself.”
After another speaker, Ferreira chimed in. He pointed to the recent lawsuit he brought, with former Second Ward Council candidate Alexis Campos, against Santos and Carpenter, where he sought to get Campos back on the ballot in June after Santos wrote a letter as chairman of the local Democratic Party challenging her residency in the ward.
Carpenter removed Campos from the ballot and a judge affirmed her decision in a hearing last month.
Ferreira and Campos did not have legal representation, instead opting to argue for themselves. Gregory Castano Jr., whose firm Castano & Quigley serves as town attorney, represented Santos and Carpenter in the matter.
Ferreira wanted to know whether Castano’s bill was being paid for by the town or the local Democratic Party.
James Bruno, the town attorney, responded by noting the town would pay the bill because Carpenter, in her duty as the clerk, was named in the suit, and because the town argued Santos was named unnecessarily in Ferreira’s filing.
When Ferreira didn’t appear to like the answers he got from Bruno, he continuously stepped on Bruno and Santos, refusing the allow them to respond.
“This is my 10 minutes,” he said.
Ferreira then asked why, as an attorney, Santos couldn’t “have represented yourself pro-bono” and he asked why he didn’t appear on the tele-call hearing. He then accused Santos of “disenfranchising a 36-year resident of the town by bringing a frivolous challenge to her candidacy.”
Ferreira inaccurately noted the Hudson County Clerk “passed” on not removing Campos from the ballot. It is not the county’s responsibility to do so — and never has.
Ferreira also took time to slam the judge in the case, Jeffrey R. Jablonski, a resident of Kearny, by saying he found a question the judge asked to be “very weird” because at the start of the hearing, the judge asked whether the plaintiffs wanted him to recuse himself because of his residency in Kearny.
“I didn’t want to seem petty, but I should have done that,” Ferreira said, hinting at possible partiality on Jablonski’s behalf. “If this went further, I don’t think you guys would have won. Part of me wanted to take it further but part of me didn’t because I want to positive and focus on the campaign. You have to know in your heart, mayor, unless you have a heart of steel, that what you did is wrong. And the other council members have to know this is wrong.”
Ferreira again fixated on why Santos, as a lawyer, couldn’t represent the town in legal matters instead of having to hire and pay other attorneys.
Santos responded after asking DeCastro to mute Ferreira so he wouldn’t “be interrupted.”
First, Santos reiterated his response to Pinho earlier, in reference to the Keegan.
Then he turned to Campos.
He said he encourages her to be active in the Democratic Party, but that there are laws governing candidacy, and regardless of whether one likes them, “you shouldn’t break the law,” he said. “The law requires one year of residency. By her own admission, Ms. Campos didn’t register in the Second Ward until March 9, 2021, some six weeks ago.”
She wasn’t disenfranchised, Santos said, because there are other offices for which she could run, including Second Ward member of council in 2022.
As to the hearing, “You made all the arguments you just did in a court of law,” the mayor said, noting Ferreira didn’t have standing in the suit but he didn’t object to that, whilst he could have. He said he followed the law and that’s why the court made the decision it made — and why Carpenter made her decision.
“I didn’t attend the hearing. I wanted the process to play out in the court,” Santos said.
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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.