Whether it was a political promotion, misleading propaganda piece or simply an advertisement for the new recreation center, a flyer mailed out to town residents became a political football at Tuesday night’s public meeting of the Secaucus mayor and council.
For the second-straight meeting, a flyer mailed out by the town came under fire by members of the council’s Independent bloc and the ensuing debate took up much of the public meeting.
Late last month, a piece sent out by the mayor highlighting crime statistics from the police department and giving residents tips to avoid break-ins created a stir.
Councilman Gary Jeffas of the 1st Ward sparked the episode at Tuesday night’s gathering when he said a glossy flyer mailed to residents last week — a special edition of the town’s “Secaucus Scene” newsletter on the new recreation center — misled residents about the costs of the center because it didn’t include payments on debt taken on by the town to finance the project.
Independents also suggested the mailing was a political flyer intended to boost the mayor ahead of the upcoming June primary as it featured two photos of Mayor Dennis Elwell. A resolution introduced by Councilman Michael Gonnelli, who is running for mayor in the fall, would’ve required Elwell to pay the estimated $3,000 cost of producing the flyer but failed on a 4-3 party-line vote.
Democrats argued that the full debt figures are not yet available and suggested the groundswell of criticism was premmature and having a negative effect on the facility in its early opening months.
Councilman John Shinnick, a Democrat from the 3rd Ward, said the financing costs are not yet known and noted the rec center’s benefits to the community were also not factored into the list of costs and revenue.
Shinnick, who blasted the vote to have Elwell pay for the flyer as “a political stunt,” also pointed out that the town council approved the rec center project and its financing. “There are benefits associated with how we’re viewed as a town,” he said of the rec center. “I see a lot of positive things happening there. Let’s give this rec center some time.”
The flyer (click image to enlarge) featured a box under a letter and photo of Mayor Dennis Elwell titled “How it’s paid for: By the numbers,” listing construction costs, projected operating costs and revenue the town expects to pay for much of the project.
“It’s very deceiving,” said Jeffas, who noted debt payments, not listed in the flyer, could be as much as $630,000 a year in addition to the $716,000 projected operating cost of the rec center.
“You’re deceiving the public that this is going to pay for itself,” said Gonnelli. “I’m not against the rec center. I’m agaist this.”
Elwell said the town hasn’t received all the costs of the center yet and suggested that including such numbers would have been premature and given ammunition to critics who could question the figures if they turned out to be incorrect.
But Councilman John Bueckner, an Independent from the 2nd Ward, questioned why the interest paid on construction notes for the project wasn’t included in the costs listed in the flyer. “That’s an obvious number,” he said.
The back-and-forth between council members reached back to the project’s outset with Bueckner noting it started out at an estimated cost in the $4M range. He recalled former town administrator Anthony Iacono telling residents “it wouldn’t cost you a dime.”
The project’s cost rose as a swimming pool was added and costs associated with building its parking lot rose significantly.
Jeffas said he asked town administrator David Drumeler to stop publication of the flyer but Drumeler said at Tuesday night’s meeting that it was too late to halt the printing in time.
“There are a lot of pople interested in the rec center and I appreciate your concern,” said deputy mayor John Reilly. “At least [the flyer] gave an idea of the direction we’re going.”