Hoboken Rights & Responsibilities Survey

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Hoboken Rights & Responsibilities Survey 2009

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Hoboken Rights & Responsibilities Survey

  1. 1. HOBOKEN CITIZEN RIGHTS & RESPONSIBILITIES SURVEY (2009) HOBOKEN CITIZENS’ RIGHTS & RESPONSIBILITIES SURVEY Executive Summary INTRODUCTION This Survey evaluates Hoboken’s civic health in sixteen separate areas. The purpose is to assess current civic infrastructure conditions and to discover opportunities for increasing citizen empowerment and participation in local government. By discovering which components of a healthy civic community are in place and which are currently missing or could be strengthened, citizens are empowered to improve their city. The information contained in the Survey was gathered through a combination of records requests and calls to relevant government and party officials. A special thanks to employees in the Clerk’s Office and at the Hoboken Public Schools, who were very helpful in assisting to secure needed information, and to John Branciforte, Patricia Samperi & People for Open Government, who provided significant assistance in this effort. The Survey covers areas under the control of three distinct entities: the City of Hoboken, the Hoboken Public Schools, and the Hoboken Democratic and Republican parties. It reveals that Hoboken does a good job on seven of the most essential components of civic health, lacks four components, and needs to strengthen an additional five. SURVEY RESULTS Eight positive civic attributes of Hoboken are: (1) an existing municipal requirement for developers to disclose political contributions; (2) a regulation on public contracting to protect against “pay-to-play” practices; (3) regulations to protect the redevelopment process against “pay to play” abuse; (4) a formal and open application process for citizens to apply for positions on boards, commissions and authorities; (5) a procedure for citizen input at City public meetings; (6) the Board of Education’s website maintains an updated list of meeting times and dates, agendas, and minutes; and (7) the Hoboken Democratic Committee bylaws that provide representative powers to its committee people, and a very low number of vacancies within the Hoboken Democratic Committee. Four components of optimal civic health are missing in Hoboken. They include: (1) local party constitutions that provide for input from registered party voters on the Committee’s platform; (2) a very high number of vacancies within the Hoboken Republican Committee, as well as the bylaws information not being readily available to members of the public; (3) a City ban on political fundraising in government offices; and (4) adult civics education classes on local government, local political parties, citizen’s rights and opportunities for participation are not offered. Five areas of civic health in Hoboken exist but need strengthening. Needed improvements include: (1) controlling levels of campaign spending for local elections to bring them within the reach of average citizens; (2) improving the list of City boards and commissions to include 2
  2. 2. HOBOKEN CITIZEN RIGHTS & RESPONSIBILITIES SURVEY (2009) all information required by the Citizen Service Act; (3) listing the vacancies on City boards and commissions in an up-to-date fashion; (4) a more current listing of minutes for City Council, planning board and zoning board meetings, as well as making agendas available in a sufficient amount of time before such meetings; and (5) expanding the civics curriculum in the high schools to deal with the powers of local government and citizen participation. CONCLUSION There is clearly a great deal of civic organization and dedication both within Hoboken’s government and in local neighborhoods and communities. The City of Hoboken, the Hoboken Board of Education, and the Hoboken Democratic and Republican parties now have a great opportunity to work with established and emerging citizen leaders to address inadequate civic health components. METHODOLOGY The survey results were compiled through a variety of methods including records requests, inquiries to public officials, a review of the City website, and other relevant original documents. Information sources and contacts with City officials have been documented throughout the process. NOTE This is the eighth Citizens’ Rights & Responsibilities Survey performed in New Jersey by local citizen volunteers coordinated by the Citizens’ Campaign. Jersey City, Newark, Paterson, Trenton, Plainfield, Hamilton, and Morristown also completed Surveys. The sixteen components of civic health were developed by the Citizens’ Campaign with input from top academics, legal experts, and citizens concerned about improving the civic health of their communities. The Survey is continually being revised based on comments and suggestions from local volunteers. 3
  3. 3. HOBOKEN CITIZEN RIGHTS & RESPONSIBILITIES SURVEY (2009) Survey of Hoboken Citizens’ Rights & Responsibilities POLITICAL PARTIES 1) Are there any vacancies in political party committees? Democratic Party – As of August 2009, the Hoboken Democratic Party Committee seats are almost completely filled. The Democratic political committee has three vacant seats out of 72: all three in Ward 6. The next Democratic Committee election will be June 2010. Republican Party – As of August 2009, the Hoboken Republican Party Committee seats contain a large number of vacancies. Thirty-two of the 72 seats are vacant, with the highest amount of vacant seats in the Wards 1, 5 and 6. The Republicans will hold an election in June 2010. 2) Do local political parties have party constitutions and bylaws, and do they give representative power to the elected committee people? Democratic Party - The Hoboken Democratic Committee does have a party constitution and bylaws. Hoboken Committee People do have representative powers such as: the right to select the party endorsed candidates, the right to fill vacancies, the right to develop and adopt a party platform and vote on the budget that controls party funds. Republican Party – It has not been determined whether the Hoboken Republican Committee has its own constitution or bylaws due to the unresponsiveness of the Municipal Party Chair. 3) Do local political parties have a platform process where members of the public are invited to give input on the party platform? While the Hoboken Democratic Committee has a platform process where the committee members have input on the party platform, it does not have a process by which registered members of the party are invited to give input on the party platform. For reasons stated above, it is unclear whether the municipal Republican Committee has such a process. LOCAL ELECTIONS 4) Does the municipality have a ban on political fund raising in government offices? No. Hoboken does not have an ordinance banning political fundraising in government offices. 5) Is there an ordinance to ensure that developers disclose their local political contributions when they seek highly discretionary development approvals from the planning or zoning board? 4
  4. 4. HOBOKEN CITIZEN RIGHTS & RESPONSIBILITIES SURVEY (2009) Yes. Hoboken City Ordinance DR-152 – Contribution Disclosure Statements - was adopted by the Hoboken City Council on August 11, 2004. Property owners, developers, redevelopers, and the professionals representing them must submit disclosure statements to the appropriate agency when making application to the Hoboken Zoning, Planning Board, or Redevelopment Agency (Hoboken City Council). *All City ordinances can be viewed on the Hoboken official website (www.hobokennj.org). Click on the “Municipal Code” link on the left. 6) Is there an ordinance prohibiting professionals from making large political contributions during negotiation and performance of local government contracts? Yes. Hoboken’s Public Contracting Reform Ordinance was approved by the voters of the City of Hoboken on November 2, 2004 and amended by City Ordinance DR-297 on February 21, 2007. 7) Is there an ordinance prohibiting political contributions by designated redevelopers and their consultants during negotiation and performance of redevelopment projects? Yes. Hoboken City Ordinance DR-298 – Redevelopment Pay-to-Play Reform – was adopted by the Hoboken City Council on February 21, 2007. 8) Are the levels of campaign spending for local elections with-in reach of the average person? No. Running for local office in Hoboken is an expensive proposition and not easily within reach of the average citizen. All candidate filings can be view on the ELEC website: www.elec.state.nj.us/publicinformation/viewreports.htm. In the 2005 municipal election, the runner-up Mayor/Council slate spent $213K. The winning slate spent $1.4 million. In the 2009 municipal election, the third runner-up slate for Mayor/Council spent $475K. The second runner-up spent $242K. The winning slate spent near $200K so far, as the slate’s post-election ELEC filings have not yet been received. The four independent candidates for Mayor, none of whom spent more than $4000 (and most considerably less), together received a total of less than 700 votes from over 10,000 ballots cast. APPOINTED GOVERNMENT POSITIONS 9. Are there any vacancies in citizen positions on boards, commissions, and authorities appointed by the municipal government? By individual ordinances, Hoboken has established 15 municipal boards. Nine of these boards are currently active while six have been designated “Non-Functional”, “Abolished” or “Not Active.” (Boards formed by ordinance can only be disbanded or dissolved by another ordinance.) 5
  5. 5. HOBOKEN CITIZEN RIGHTS & RESPONSIBILITIES SURVEY (2009) Of the nine functioning boards, commissions, and authorities listed with the City of Hoboken Clerk’s office, two currently have vacancies. (See Appendix B for the names of the boards/commissions/authorities, the date they were last updated, and the number of vacancies and reasons for vacancies.) 10. Does the municipality list all of its appointed citizen positions in a public directory? The City of Hoboken adopted into law the Citizens’ Service Act in September 2008. The Act calls for the City Clerk to prepare and maintain a register of all appointed municipal positions and to make the register available at City Hall and on the City’s website. Currently the list is not kept in hard copy at the City Clerk’s office, but is maintained online. The City’s online board listings are incomplete. All “active” boards are listed, however, the information that should accompany them varies from listing to listing, including the description of the members’ duties, special qualifications, or appointing authority. Vacancies on these boards happen quickly and the website often fails to identify current vacancies. For example, according to the City Clerk in early September, the Hoboken Housing Authority had two vacancies and the Alcoholic Beverage Commission had one vacancy. None of these vacancies were listed online. 11. Has the municipality adopted a formal and open application process for citizens to apply for positions on boards, commissions, and authorities? Yes. The City of Hoboken has a formal and open application process where interested applicants can download a copy of the “Application to Citizen Advisory Boards and Commissions” from the municipal website & submit it for review to the Mayor or City Clerk. DIRECT CITIZEN ENGAGEMENT IN LOCAL POLICY 12) Does the city council have a procedure designed to facilitate citizen input at its meetings? New Rules of Procedure for the City Council were adopted on February 18, 2009. The Rules specify when meetings are held and for what purpose. The Rules state that any citizen may speak on resolutions, claims, and ordinances, but must sign up on sheets that are made available at the front of the council chambers. The Rules do not mention that lists are pulled at the beginning of the meeting (those who are late usually cannot sign the sheets and must ask permission to speak later; permission is not always granted). A five-minute time limit is placed on public speakers. Rules for addressing the Council and general decorum within Council Chambers are presented. 13) Does the municipality’s website list and keep updated meetings dates/times, agenda for council, planning board and zoning board meetings, minutes of past meetings, and the procedure to request government documents? Yes. Hoboken City Ordinance DR-149, adopted August 11, 2004, requires the City to publish on its official city website (http://www.hobokennj.org) all notices and agendas required by law to be posted publically and/or published. This includes notices of meetings, agendas, 6
  6. 6. HOBOKEN CITIZEN RIGHTS & RESPONSIBILITIES SURVEY (2009) resolutions and ordinances, and minutes. However, as stated below, not all of this material is updated & kept current. An updated schedule of City Council meetings is available. City Council meeting agendas are not always available more than 48 hours in advance of meetings. Archives of agendas and their corresponding resolutions and ordinances are incomplete, missing a number of meetings’ documents since 2004. Minutes are provided for years 2001-06 but are incomplete for 2007 and have not been provided at all since January of 2008. A calendar of Zoning Board meetings is provided. Archived agendas are provided for the last two years only. Several agendas for the past year have not been posted. Minutes have not been provided. A calendar of Planning Board meetings is provided. Agendas from 2006 are provided. No agendas from 2007 are available, and only a handful are available for 2008-09. Only minutes for 2005 and 2006 are available, and those years are incomplete. No minutes are available for 2007-09. The Hoboken city website has an “Access Public Records” page that links to the city’s OPRA request form, provides instructions on making requests, and provides a rate schedule. 14) Does the website for the Board of Education list and keep updated meeting times/dates, agendas and minutes for meetings? Are these meetings available on the municipal website? Yes. The Hoboken Board of Education website provides a calendar of Board meetings for the school year. Minutes are provided for the last three years. Minutes and agendas are provided for the last year’s meetings. CIVIC EDUCATION 15) Do the school district’s adult education offerings include civics classes on local government and local political parties, citizens’ rights, and opportunities for participation? No. The Hoboken Public School District does not offer such adult education classes. 16) Do the high schools teach civics classes that include the rights of citizens to participate in local government and political parties? The Hoboken Public School system has a new curriculum that touches upon civics in the 5th, 8th and 10th grades. On the secondary level, civics and rights of citizens are entwined in US History I and US History II, though not specifically citizen rights with respect to local government. While all facets of the material and lessons include this content, it is primarily in the 10th grade (US I) where civics is focused on for two units (marking periods). 7
  7. 7. HOBOKEN CITIZEN RIGHTS & RESPONSIBILITIES SURVEY (2009) Appendix A – The Survey POLITICAL PARTIES 1) Are there any vacancies in political party committees? 2) Do local political parties have party constitutions and bylaws and do they give representative power to the elected committee people? 3) Do local political parties have a platform process where members of the public are invited to give input on the party platform? LOCAL ELECTIONS 3) Does the municipality have a ban on political fundraising in government offices? 4) Is there an ordinance to ensure that developers disclose their local political contributions when they seek highly discretionary development approvals from the planning or zoning board? 5) Is there an ordinance prohibiting professionals from making large political contributions during negotiation and performance of local government contracts? 6) Is there an ordinance prohibiting political contributions by designated redevelopers and their consultants during negotiation and performance of redevelopment projects? 7) Are the levels of campaign spending for local elections within the reach of the average citizen? APPOINTED GOVERNMENT POSITIONS 8) Are there vacancies in citizen positions on boards, commissions and authorities appointed by the municipal government? 9) Does the municipality list all of its appointed citizen positions in a public directory? 10) Has the municipality adopted a formal and open application process for citizens to apply for positions on boards, commissions and authorities? DIRECT CITIZEN ENGAGEMENT IN LOCAL PUBLIC POLICY 11) Does the city or town council have a procedure designed to facilitate citizen input at its meetings? 12) Does the municipality’s web site list and keep updated meetings dates/times, agendas for council, planning board, and zoning board meetings, minutes of past meetings, and the procedure to request government documents? 13) Does the web site for the Board of Education list and keep updated meeting times/dates, agendas and minutes for meetings or are these meetings available on the municipal website? CIVIC EDUCATION 14) Do the school district’s adult education offerings include civics classes on local government and local political parties, citizen’s rights and opportunities for participation? 15) Do the high schools teach civics classes that include the rights of citizens to participate in local government and political parties? 8
  8. 8. HOBOKEN CITIZEN RIGHTS & RESPONSIBILITIES SURVEY (2009) Appendix B BOARD/COMMISSION/AUTHORITY # PUBLIC VACANCIES MEMBERS 1. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board 3 0 (1 term expires 6/30/2010) 2. Historic Preservation Commission 7 + 2 alternates 0 vacancies (2 terms expire 12/31/09) 3. Hoboken Housing Authority 7 0 vacancies (1 term expires 5/3/10) 4. Library Board 7 0 vacancies (2 terms expire 6/30/10) 5. North Hudson Sewage Authority 3 0 vacancies 6. Planning Board 5 + 2 alternates 0 vacancies (2 terms expire 12/31/09, & 1 on 6/30/09) 7. Rent Leveling and Stabilization Board 7 1 vacancy 8. Shade Tree Commission 5 + 2 alternates 1 vacancy (2 terms expire 12/31/09 9. Zoning Board of Adjustment 7 + 2 alternates 0 vacancies (3 terms expire 12/31/09) 10. Emergency Management Council Up to 11 “No current members” – City Clerk 11. Municipal Ethics Board 7 Non-Functional 12. Medical Advisory Board As deemed needed Not Active 13. Council on Affordable Housing 1 Non-Functional 14. Youth Advisory Commission 9 Not Active 15. Public Health Nursing Service Agency 15-30 Not Active Citizens’ Advisory Board County and Other boards with Hoboken Citizen Representatives: The City also recommends citizens to the Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders for appointment to county level boards and commissions. These include the Hudson County Planning Board, Hudson County Construction Board of Appeals and County Open Space Advisory Board among others. Residency Requirements: Very few City boards require members to be City residents by ordinance. State municipal land use law requires residency for the zoning and planning boards. The planning board’s Class II member is exempt from residency requirements. 9

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