Jersey City’s lawmakers compressed a lot of business into an hour-long meeting Wednesday while, at the same time, singling out several residents for their achievements.

City Council approved payment of higher legal fees to defend civilian and uniformed employees against litigation, hired a new boss with local roots to run the city’s new animal control shelter, accepted a state grant to aid restoration of historic Reservoir 3, banned right turns on red at 18 locations, primarily in Ward D, to improve safety and got an update, from its legal adviser, on rent increases contested by hundreds of tenants at Portside Towers.

A new animal control boss

The council hired Jersey City native W. Mark Byrnes as chief animal control officer for the city’s new shelter. Byrnes, who previously served as supervising animal control officer for Bergen County, got an unsolicited compliment from resident Gina Davison who said he “has a fantastic reputation in the animal rescue community.”

Byrnes is certified “to investigate and sign complaints, arrest violators, and otherwise act as an officer for detection, apprehension and arrest of offenders against the animal control statutes of the state and ordinances of the municipality.”

His salary wasn’t listed as part of his appointment resolution.

To help with the reclaiming of historic Reservoir 3, adjacent to Pershing Field park, the council voted to accept a $750,000 grant from the state Office of Historic Preservation to restore Gatehouse 2 at Summit and Reservoir avenues. No timetable was announced for when the job would begin or end. The city is now in the process of installing a pedestrian walkway bridge accessible to the disabled.

Heights right turns

As a safety initiative, the council introduced an ordinance – due for a public hearing in two weeks – prohibiting right turns on a red signal at 18 intersections at all times. City Infrastructure Director Barkha Patel said, “we’re seeing a lot of near misses, encroaching on cross-walks” at these locations, adding that the council could expect an extra “series of interventions over the next few weeks.”

Ward D Councilmember Yusef Saleh agreed that Patel’s recommendations were “supported by the data” and that he was “surprised to learn that most people in the Heights don’t feel safe crossing the street.”

Notable locals

Council members saluted newly retired Executive Officer Nicola “Nick” Flora after 25 years with the city Police Department. Flora will now be moving over to the Port Authority of N.Y. & N.J. Flora, who grew up on Newkirk Street, was a graduate of McNair Academic High School and joined the JCPD in March 1999. He moved up through the ranks, serving as DEA Task Force officer, sergeant, lieutenant detective commander, South District captain and deputy chief along the way. In 2006, he was named Supervisor of the Year. He completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice from New Jersey City University and a master’s in public administration from Seton Hall University. The council resolution called him the “epitome of a dedicated police officer (who) often, without prompt, attended community meetings, Council meetings and countless public events in order to lend his expertise and reassure all those present that the JCPD was taking their issues seriously.” 

Retiring Executive Officer Nicola “Nick” Flora

The council paid tribute to U.S. Army Gen. (Ret.) Edward M. Daly on his street naming dedication – a section of Terhune Avenue between Fowler Avenue and Kennedy Boulevard. Daly left the military in 2023 after 36 years of service, most recently as the 20th Commanding General of the U.S. Army Materiel Command where he led 190,000 military and Department of the Army civilians and contractors with an annual budget of $50 billion. Daly directed Army logistics world-wide, global military sales and initial materiel field efforts in support of Ukraine as well as the Army’s organic industrial base and infrastructure modernization initiatives. Daly – the only career logistics 4-star general to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point – completed his high school degree at St. Peter’s Prep in 1983 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the ordnance corps after graduating from West Point in 1987. He earned a master’s degree in business administration from Gonzaga University and an M.A. in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College. Daly participated in multiple global combat tours. As a civilian, he founded Daly Consulting & Logistics, LLC, where he advises multiple corporate boards in aerospace, energy, manufacturing, logistics, software and health and welfare.

As a way of recognizing and commemorating their “monumental achievements,” the council designated April 2024 as “Sikh Heritage” month. Sikhism, which claims 30 million global followers and 500,000 in the U.S., and whose credo encompasses “service to humanity and devotion to God, believing that every human being … is equal in the eyes of God,” the council resolution noted. The religion “is credited as a pioneer of social justice with female participation in religious ceremonies widely encouraged.” Jersey City Sikh community activist Arjumand Juweria prepares and distributes meals to local shelters for the annual “Let’s Share a Meal” event. She said local Sikhs propose to use “public education” to “promote awareness of the invaluable contributions of the Sikh community (and) to combat religious discrimination and bigotry.”

The City Council recognized the Sikh Community

The council heralded former city Corporation Counsel and Municipal Utilities Authority executive director Jeremy Farrell, who died at age 44 in December 2023 and agreed to name the playground at J. Owen Grundy Park in his honor. Born in Ontario, Canada, Farrell attended McGill University where he served as the first Black president of the student society, then graduated from Seton Hall University Law School as a recipient of a Distinguished Scholars Scholarship. After serving as an associate at McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter in Newark, Farrell moved to Jersey City, becoming the city’s top lawyer from 2013 to 2017 and as a member of the board of directors of the Exchange Place Alliance Special Improvement District. After his municipal tenure, Farrell became special counsel for the LeFrak Organization he “worked hand-in-hand with the city on many vital public initiatives, including the installation of Water’s Soul, a public art sculpture on the Newport waterfront.

And, to honor Transgender Day of Visibility, the council resolved to “proudly fly the Transgender Pride flag above City Hall on March 28 and post about TDoV on social media platforms in recognition of our freedom and cherished cultural diversity here in Jersey City.” The ceremony – which will mark the fourth annual celebration in Jersey City – will also serve to “raise the awareness of the discrimination faced by the LGBTQ community in housing, employment, sports and public accommodations, among other activities of daily life,” the council resolution said.

Portside rents

The council got a report on the Portside Towers controversy from outside attorney Eric M. Bernstein, of Warren, retained by the city and city Rent Leveling Board to advise them on the status of litigation involving tenants at 100 Warren St. and 155 Washington St.

Bernstein wrote that both the tenants and the property owners (Equity Residential) have appealed the city Rent Leveling Board’s ruling on the rent control status of these buildings. The tenants filed in state court and Equity, in federal court. He said the tenants agree generally with the rent board ruling but challenge the proposed re-calculation of the rents. 

Tenants from Portside Towers

He said the city Office of Landlord Tenant Relations “will be complying with the (city rent board’s) determination and re-calculating the legal rents for Portside Towers. Needless to say, this task will be a significant undertaking.”

Bernstein said the OLTR has secured from the owners “leases and rent rolls … dating back to at least 2017. We are in the process of reviewing those documents and redacting information where required. We expect that OLTR will request additional information after the initial review is complete, likely including additional leases dating back to at least 2016….”

He said his office is also reviewing the tenants’ legal arguments presented to the City Council and, ultimately, will be sharing its opinions “in a confidential setting to preserve the city’s defenses and legal strategies….”

Lawyers, lawyers and more lawyers

In other business, city legislators voted to increase the total amount of fees to be paid to lawyers representing city employees being sued on different issues, as follows:

The law firm of Apruzzese, McDermott, Mastro & Murphy will now be entitled to collect a total of $320,000 after being retained initially for $50,000 in 2021 to represent Police Officer Robert Sjosward, named as a defendant in a federal lawsuit by police superiors Kelly Chesler and Joseph Ascolese alleging that their civil rights and rights granted under the Conscientious Employment Protection Act (CEPA).

Cleary Giacobbe Alfieri Jacobs will get an additional $50,000 to defend Mayor Steven Fulop and the city against a federal lawsuit filed in April 2020 by Athena O’Garro alleging that they “failed to meet with the Americans with Disabled Act … accessibility requirements throughout the city.” The law firm, whose fee has been raised each year thereafter, now stands to get a total of $225,000.

Florio Kenny Raval, hired in May 2023 to represent the city and Police Officer Charles Tavares as defendants in a Superior Court complaint by a citizen alleging he was struck while riding his bicycle by a vehicle operated by Tavares, was to be paid $40,000 but that fee has now been doubled to $80,000.

And Bratti Greenan LLC, retained in 2020 for $50,000 to represent former Police Chief Philip Zacche – named in a complaint by Kelly Chesler and Joseph Ascolese seeking damages for alleged violations of their civil rights and CEPA, is now in line for a revised total of $200,000 in fees.

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...