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Allegations Fly During 'Good Government' Discussion

Ridgewood council members accused one another of improprieties. They'll be "re-doing" a discussion on rehabilitation versus redevelopment of the Ken Smith site.

A discussion on "good government" turned ugly Wednesday night, with Ridgewood council members trading a slew of ethics allegations against one another.

It was a 40-minute back-and-forth blowout with allegations of ticket fixing, secret meetings with developers, slander, and misuse of staff.

When the dust finally settled, the governing body agreed to "re-do" a meeting on redeveloping or rehabilitating the area surrounding the Ken Smith property.

At its crux, the questions Wednesday night revolved around whether all council members should be made aware when some of its members hold meetings (three members cannot attend a meeting without public notice); and if the divided council can move past the brouhaha that went down.

The tension began when Councilwoman Bernadette Walsh circled back to the "now-infamous" Graydon meeting, in which Deputy Mayor Albert Pucciarelli and Councilwoman Gwenn Hauck invited staff members for an "info-gathering" meeting on the Graydon ramp. Walsh, along with several residents, opined she and Councilman Tom Riche were not made aware of the meeting. (It was a meeting conducted legally, Village Attorney Matt Rogers later said.)

Almost immediately, the gloves came off. Pucciarelli insisted Walsh and Riche had been made aware of the meeting and said he had emails to prove it.

"I'm tired of hearing it and I suspect the public is too," he said.

Walsh wanted to continue, but an upset Pucciarelli cut in.

"It's not unimportant you let this misstatement of facts stand. I'd like to hear you say 'I'm sorry.' You were told about the meeting and you have now said, along with Mr. Riche, that you were not told about the meeting."

Hauck added her two cents, saying Walsh had been "maligning" Pucciarelli's reputation.

"To me, that speaks volumes about the kind of relationship we have as a council. To me, that needs to be addressed much more than the Sunshine law."

Riche was not present at the Wednesday council meeting.

Meetings with developers

According to Walsh (who said Pucciarelli had scheduled the meeting prior to telling her), the Graydon meeting tied into a more recent concern of hers, involving one of the hotly-discussed downtown housing proposals – 'Ridgewood Station' at Ken Smith Autos.

Her point, she said, was simple.

"What's the responsibility to each other when two of us are in a meeting?" Walsh asked, referring to meetings that don't require public notice.

She quickly moved to the 'Ridgewood Station' meetings.

"I sent everybody an email to all of you...have any of you been having meetings or discussions with people at Terminal Construction (the developer)?" she said. Only Riche replied.

Fast forward to a closed session in November. Pucciarelli, she said, brought out elevations of the site. All council members viewed them, though it was not on the agenda.

"He should not have pulled the papers out," Walsh said. "We shouldn't have had that discussion." Village Attorney Matt Rogers agreed on Wednesday – it was improper.

Aronsohn said the spirit of the discussion was parking-based, as the site is one identified for many years as ideal for commuter spots. It was discussed in closed sessions, in open sessions and frankly, he remarked, and he's willing to sit down with just about anyone interested in doing business in Ridgewood.

"I'm obsessed with parking," the mayor said. "I'll talk to anyone who wants to give us parking space. If you think we need new processes, absolutely, let's talk about it in a very positive way."

The discussion on rehabilitating or redeveloping areas around Ken Smith on Dec. 5 was incomplete without all the information, Walsh said.

"That conversation in my mind would have gone completely differently had I known that you guys had multiple meetings and discussions with the developer, their attorney, with our attorney, with the planning board attorney."

Walsh told Patch on Monday she was concerned the public and a few council members have been kept in the dark.

She took umbrage the pair "ran up" bills for legal counsel, and pressed them to release the 46 emails to the public Pucciarelli and Aronsohn sent and received on the matter.

"We as council members can't just take it upon ourselves to charge things to the village without the other council members knowing," she said.

Pucciarelli and Aronsohn on Monday said they have "no problem" releasing the e-mails, though Pucciarelli said there are potential legal concerns over who is allowed to release the e-mails because of attorney-client privilege. Matt Rogers could not immediately be reached for comment Monday night.

According to Pucciarelli, Aronsohn broached the subject with Terminal Construction in October. They have a large tract of land and might be able to provide 100 commuter parking spaces to the village if the area were deemed appropriate for rehabilitation.

Pucciarelli, a lawyer, says he and Matt Rogers determined the parcels would not be appropriate for rehabilitation and that's why the issue never carried to Dec. 12.

The council ultimately agreed to do a "do-over" of the meeting.

Parking ticket questioned

By the time the council had traded barbs over Graydon, staff time, and Ken Smith, the floodgates had opened.

Aronsohn said Walsh was an integral part in "one of the lowest points in the council's history," the vote on Gabbert's salary increase.

The $20,000 raise was put on the agenda within 24 hours of the August meeting.

He asked for a postponement but Walsh opposed him and "led the charge to shut down the conversation," he said. Walsh, Aronsohn remarked, was casting stones from her glass house.

Aronsohn wasn't done.

Walsh, a UP3 parking pass holder, received a ticket in December. She took it to the police chief and the village manager.

Walsh paid for the ticket as well as another fine tacked on (which she said was also in error). The councilwoman said she did nothing wrong in bringing a ticket to the attention of the top administrator and the police chief.

"A council member sending a ticket to the village manager and police chief puts them, I would suggest, in a very uncomfortable position," Aronsohn snarled, calling it a "blatant misuse of staff time."

Walsh replied she didn't appreciate police officers thought she was "not trying to pay a ticket." Others too could have been receiving tickets in error, she said.

Although the council is clearly divided – with Aronsohn, Pucciarelli and Hauck in one corner; Walsh and Riche in the other – perhaps the high-tension meeting will ultimately prove beneficial.

"As destructive as this conversation seems at the surface, maybe it's cathartic," Aronsohn concluded.

In a follow-up conversation with Patch on Monday, Walsh says she'll do what she can to work with her colleagues, though she might not be pow-wowing with them over lunch.

"We'll move forward," she said.

Pucciarelli carried the same sentiment, saying he believes the council can address issues productively and with collegiality.

If you want to check out the video for yourself, head to the Vimeo page. The discussion starts at about 1:45:00.

J.D. Luke February 05, 2013 at 01:50 PM
Can we just get some kids from BF or GW to govern the town instead?
Brian February 05, 2013 at 02:37 PM
I just watched the meeting and was pretty disappointed with the tenor of the discussion. 2 wrongs don't make a right and responding tit for tat is not helpful. It seems pretty clear that there are several instances here of "open government" regulations being circumvented by all parties. All those violations appear to have been rather insignificant. Hopefully airing these "facts" will help everyone move forward. It seems to me that what we are also seeing play out is the problems inherent in sunshine provisions. To make government work you have to be able to sit down and have discussions off the record. You need the room to throw out ideas, discuss options and negotiate. As Churchill said, the public is best shielded from seeing how sausage and laws are made. The initial discussions on major topics cannot be productive if they are held on the record. We should strive to have open conversations at Council meetings where ideas are debated but that does not mean that there are not more substantive meetings prior to the official discussion where the council is able to chew on the facts a bit to form an educated opinion. It is great that these laws prohibit the meeting with the developer from occurring at an expensive lunch but that doesnt mean we should frown on any informal discussions because such meetings allow creative solutions to be found.
Cy Caine February 05, 2013 at 07:22 PM
With all due respect to the anonymous RHS Student, I watched the video last night and didn't witness an attack on Mr. Pucciarelli's character by Ms. Walsh. If anyone disagrees, please direct us to the appropriate time on the video of the meeting.
Cy Caine February 05, 2013 at 07:25 PM
I tend to agree with Mr. Loving on this one, though even after watching the video I can't be confident that I have all of the facts. If Ms. Walsh reached out to the police chief before paying or contesting her fine, that is troubling. If it was after the fact as an FYI of a possible ongoing problem, then it seems more appropriate. It did seem strange that this was brought up at this point in the meeting and also seemed designed simply to deflect attention from the appropriate questions raised by Ms. Walsh.
Brian February 05, 2013 at 08:08 PM
She implies that some answer to a question asked by Jamie at a previous meeting was an implied shake down/threat to the developer. It is at about 2:05-2:10. Near the end. Pucarrelli responds that his reply was merely explaining some technicality. Moreover, the implication of the entire conversation is that the Mayor and Deputy Mayor gain some benefit by meeting with the developers in private. If this is not the intention then what is the point of the entire conversation?
Joseph Alvaro February 05, 2013 at 09:01 PM
To witness Mr. Pucciarelli's bloviating reminds one of the characters in The Jersey Shore. Totally lacking in grace, manners and poise. His behavior towards Ms. Walsh, whether you agree with her or not, was boorish... NQOCD
JT February 05, 2013 at 10:05 PM
Legal or not, council members should be privy to any meetings that other members are attending. It looks to any resident like Mr. Pucciarelli, Mr. Arohnson & Ms. Hauck are purposely excluding Mr. Riche & Ms. Walsh from their meetings regarding the many proposed apartment buildings.
Joseph Alvaro February 05, 2013 at 10:24 PM
Having watched the video one wonders; is our mayor just plain daft or does he think we are? He agrees with Ms Walsh that no one wants to spend 3 hrs waiting in court to fight an unwarranted $19 parking ticket; that it’s not worth anyone's time. Yet he prattles on as if there's some ethical infraction on Ms Walsh's part for alerting village officials to a mistaken ticket she received? Mr Aronsohn’s continued vilification of Ms Walsh's character, stating repeatedly that she “sent the ticket” to the Village Manager and Police Chief, with the implication that she wanted it fixed, was shameful. As Ms Walsh made perfectly clear, she sent an email informing the Police Chief and Village Manager of the illicit ticket in an effort to make them aware of the incompetence exhibited by some of the civil servants in our employ. After all, she had a yearly parking permit and should not have been issued a ticket in the first place. Did Mr Aronsohn truly believe that by using deflection to distract from Ms Walsh's point, that members have repeatedly violated the governing rules of the council while conducting village business, he could muddy the discussion enough for us to forget the topic at hand… the breach of ethical behavior.
John Q. Taxpayer February 06, 2013 at 02:30 AM
Something is rotten in the Village of Ridgewood.
kerry February 06, 2013 at 03:26 AM
I watched the video as well and was very disappointed in Pucciarelli's behavior. He came off as sounding childish and mean spirited. I'm surprised he didn't fling his hair over his shoulder and stomp out of the room. Aronsohn should not have piled on with him. They both sounded overly defensive and silly. Bringing up the ticket was absurd and showed their willingness to say anything to get some mud to stick. If they had remained professional and behaved like gentlemen, Walsh would have looked far less reasonable. She outplayed them both. And I have always favored Aronsohn's politics over hers.
Mike Kender February 06, 2013 at 04:20 AM
I don't agree with Ms. Walsh about everything and actually voted for her opponents, and not her, when she ran for her council seat. However, it is ridiculous, in my opinion, how people are trying to make a mountain out of a molehill with regard to her mention of her tickets. Ridgewood has some major issues that need to be dealt with. Let's please focus on the important things and not get bogged down by sideshows and political theater.
Bob Royal February 06, 2013 at 02:13 PM
The timing does not matter. What matters is if she made it clear that she expected a favor. She has every right to complain about a ticket that was issued improperly just like you do. She doesn't have to pay first and then complain. Now, if she said to the police, something like "I am Councilwoman Walsh, what are you going to do about this ticket I got and you better do something or else" then there would be a problem. I have not heard any facts like that. This is the Mayor trying to deflect attention away from what he and his side-kick did.
Bob Royal February 06, 2013 at 02:16 PM
You are right, Eastside Dad. But this is more than just maing a mountain out of a molehill. The ticket issue is being used by the Mayor and his side-kick to draw attention away from what they did. My kids try that approach too: "yeah, but she took an extra piece of candy." It doesn't work.
Bob Royal February 06, 2013 at 02:21 PM
Let's look at the facts that we do know. Councilwoman Walsh had a properly displayed permit and was wrongly issued numerous tickets. This is not a situation where she was trying to get out of a legitimately issued ticket. She has every right to object to being issued a ticket improperly.
Bob Royal February 06, 2013 at 02:24 PM
The law is there so that some members of the council are not chewing on the facts without the other members. That would put the other members at a disadvantage when the offending members are ready to bring up the issue. It also seeks to prevent improper side-dealings. Besides, if the Mayor doesn't like the law he should seek to change it -- not simply ignore it.
Bob Royal February 06, 2013 at 02:29 PM
I agree with your comments about Aronsohn's and Pucciarelli's behavior. But why would Walsh have looked far less reasonable if they had behaved? If they are having improper meetings, they must stop doing so and apologize. If they are technically following the law, but in spirit are isolating Walsh, they should stop as that is not good government -- despite the examples we see on the national level.
Craig Hueneke February 06, 2013 at 03:14 PM
And this type of B.S. serves the Common Good of the residents of this Village how? The most important thing here it that they put this crap BEHIND them and move forward. It's no different than a good marriage... you forgive and/or forget, bury the hatchet, learn from the past and move on. C'MON V.C. YOU'RE GOOD PEOPLE, THE AVERAGE RESIDENT GETS ENOUGH OF THIS CRAP FROM WASHINGTON, WE DON'T WANT IT HERE! PLEASE RISE ABOVE THIS CRAP!
OHW February 06, 2013 at 05:32 PM
Voting as a bloc, I guess Ahronson and Pucciarelli along with their sidekick, Hauck "forget" that Walsh and Ritchie deserve to be in the loop. The two can't properly represent the taxpayers if they're excluded by the three. This is extremely bad and makes a mockery of the intent of the Sunshine laws
delgado February 07, 2013 at 03:17 AM
This will only stop if Honorable Walsh resigns.... Her connections and massive political contributions to the double dipping Republican County Exe. Donovan is terrible and all of her ties to these double dippers (including the current former Upper Saddle River Republican Mayor/Republican NWBCUA Commissioner and Village Manager) is really bring down R'wood... This isnt what Rwood is about. Walsh should resign..
delgado February 07, 2013 at 03:21 AM
Honorable Walsh and her supporters can not make her out to be the victim. She ran for public office, actively and financially supportted the well known and well publized in the all media reports the well known double dipping Bergen Republicans. Walsh gave Gabbert the 12% raise and Donovan in turn appointed Gabbert to the second position at NWBCUA.. Walsh cant have it both ways, run on smaller government and then support the double dipping Bergen Republicans and their wasteful ways. Walsh should resign.
delgado February 07, 2013 at 03:23 AM
,, then Aronson has a right to be there when Walsh gives thousands of dollars to the Bergen County Executive... How come Walsh never invited other councilmembers to these meeting with the double dipping Donovan. What is Walsh hiding? What was discussed?
delgado February 07, 2013 at 03:28 AM
Ite 100% wrong what Honorable Walsh did.
delgado February 07, 2013 at 03:30 AM
So if Walsh gets a County ticket, she can simply ask Donovan, who she gave thousands of dollars too, to simply look into her ticket... that would be okay also.... using the same logic...
chele February 07, 2013 at 07:33 PM
Dearest delgado, could you please enlighten your fellow citizens as to your incessent carping related to Ms. Walsh's "connections and massive political connections". Additionally, insight into "her ties to these double dippers" would be most appreciated. I'm having trouble seeing how that relates in the slightest to the conversation at hand. You keen and eloquent use of the English language so dazzles one that your point can easily be overlooked. We wait with baited breath for your most eloquent reply, the Citizenry
Bob Royal February 07, 2013 at 09:58 PM
Yes, delgado, if Walsh was improperly issued a ticket several times despite having a permit (thus indicating a systemic problem) it makes sense for her to raise the issue to someone who can look into and hopefully put an end to the improper practice that may be impacting others. Now, if Walsh got the ticket properly and was seeking a favor to get out of it, that would be wrong. What she did is should be appreciated by everyone (and don't forget, she paid the ticket anyway).
Bob Royal February 07, 2013 at 10:01 PM
By the way, at the meeting last night, I hear the three amigos were given the opportunity on several occasions to apologize directly to Councilwoman Walsh for their behavior. Though Aronsohn (at the beginning of the meeting) made a general apology to everyone for the way the meeting went, NOT ONE OF THEM ACTUALLY APOLOGIZED TO WALSH. I thought they were rude before, now I will add that they are cowards too.
delgado February 08, 2013 at 01:41 AM
Yes lets focus on the money Walsh gave to the County Executive, who in turn appointed Gabbert to the NWBCUA..... Walsh needs to come clean why she gave thousands to Donovan who in turn nominated Gabbert,,,, and why did tax-cutter Walsh give a MASSIVE 12% raise to Republican Gabbert.... ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS.
Bob Royal February 08, 2013 at 02:22 AM
delgado, All you are doing is continuing to raise issues to distract from the current issue that Councilwoman Walsh raised. Even if your complaints were legitimate (and I don't think they are) you lose all credibility when you try to raise them in this context.
Bob Royal February 08, 2013 at 01:24 PM
Tommy, If only you took the time to read (see my other post below -- Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - which was written before your comment), you would see that I also said "If they are technically following the law, but in spirit are isolating Walsh, they should stop as that is not good government -- despite the examples we see on the national level." But I do agree with you about Mrs. Pelosi's tactics -- progressives never let facts get in their way of their "ends justifies the means" approach.
delgado February 08, 2013 at 11:35 PM
Sure- Walsh is part of the Donovan pay-to-play machine. Walsh has given thousands of dollars to Donovan and Donovan appointed Gabbert to NWBCUA. Walsh also approved 12% raise for Gabbert. This is wrong. Also the corruption coming out of the Walsh supported Republican Adminstration is terrible and disgusting. Stop enablers like Walsh and that will stop the corruption. Can you follow this?


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