This article has been updated.
NEWARK, NJ — Incendiary comments from a city director accidentally broadcast by Zoom flared tempers during Wednesday’s remote city council meeting, when the audio picked up the director saying, “I don’t give a F about no North Ward, this is what M&M said."
Councilmembers were quick to react to the fighting words, which are alleged to have come from Patrick Council, director of Recreation, Cultural Affairs and Senior Services. Central Ward Councilwoman LaMonica McIver said "that's Council" after the outburst, and other members apparently recognized Council's voice.
Council did not respond to requests for clarification on Friday. A city spokesperson told TAPinto Newark on Saturday that Council issued an apology to the council and received a 5-day suspension without pay on Wednesday.
“We shouldn’t be having that kind of language, man. We can’t say that stuff, it’s not appropriate,” Councilman-at-Large Louis Quintana said. “It’s not appropriate for elected officials, it’s not appropriate for no one. I take offense when people use that kind of terminology.”
North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos added, “and to say 'F' about a certain ward of the city …” before Quintana again lambasted the use of foul language and holding a private call during a public meeting.
“It doesn’t matter! All wards are the same. And we don’t have to use that kind of terminology on this kind of network. If you have a sidebar do it on your own, not on here. I’m taking offense to that,” Quintana said.
Council President Mildred Crump, also apparently upset by the comments, repeatedly asked who was responsible for them.
“I’m sure the business administrator will address this,” Ramos said.
Council's apology, provided by the city press office, says the whole debacle was a misunderstanding. Council wrote that a staffer interrupted him about the Mars Wrigley Halloween Truck Tour as he was dealing with more pressing issues in two senior buildings, resulting in the comments.
"As the Director of the Department of Recreation, Cultural Affairs and Senior Services, I would like to apologize to the Council body, Mayor and residents over the remarks that were made on the Municipal Council Zoom call today," Council said.
"During the Zoom meeting, an employee brought it to my attention that there was not a scheduled stop in the North Ward," Council said. "At which time, I was dealing with two major issues developing at 2 Nevada Senior Building and the Club House located on Spruce Street which were more important at the time. What you heard was the latter part of my frustrations."
He added that the comments are not a reflection of the character or his commitment to the entire city. His staff is working on adding stops in the North and South Wards for the tour, which were not originally scheduled by Mars Wrigley.
The meeting, which the clerk’s office said was broadcast live on local cable networks, was not made available to the public via Internet stream, nor did the city post a recording of the meeting on its website. TAPinto Newark obtained a copy of the recording via OPRA request.
Though the clerk’s office said the recording would be made available, it has not been uploaded as of 5 p.m. Friday. Normally, the city uploads the recorded meeting within hours of the meeting's conclusion.
Wednesday's meeting comes just one day after West Ward Councilman Joseph McCallum was formally charged with helping orchestrate a bribery and kickback scheme involving the nonprofit economic development entity Invest Newark, according to the United States Attorney's Office. A city spokesperson clarified that the employee involved in the alleged fraud was part of the Newark Community Economic Development Corporation, Invest Newark's former iteration, and Invest Newark is not involved in the charges against McCallum.
The council passed an ordinance Wednesday allowing Invest Newark, which serves as Newark's land bank institution, to enter into a trust with the city to hold blighted properties on the city’s behalf.
Under the Open Public Meetings Act’s 2020 amendments, municipalities must ensure that the public retains the ability to attend and provide comment at public meetings. They must also provide instructions to the public regarding how to access a remote meeting and the procedures for commenting through whatever equipment or medium is utilized.
Bruce Rosen, a media attorney for MARC law, said just offering a broadcast of council meetings through a local cable service is not enough during an era of remote meetings.
“It seems to me if the Internet is not working, or their streaming service is not working, they shouldn't hold the meeting until it does. If they don’t, they’re putting whatever they’re doing at risk for some sort of challenge,” Rosen said. “Even if it did proceed, they should make every effort to produce a copy of it — which is easy enough — and the fact that they have not definitely indicative of violating at least the spirit of the OPMA, if not the letter of it.”
A spokesman for the city reiterated that they were having technical issues in uploading a copy of the recording to the council website.