NEWARK, NJ - The City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved two bills aimed at addressing the city’s lead water issue amid criticism from a host of residents who erupted at city officials sitting on the dais for what they said was the mishandling of a public health crisis.
The council approved a $120 million bond ordinance the city secured in the form of a loan from Essex County to pay for the replacement of lead service lines. It also approved another measure sent by Mayor Ras Baraka’s administration that would allow the city to replace lead lines without a property owners permission.
Baraka’s administration has insisted the loan means city residents, who technically own lead lines, would not have to pay to have them replaced. The measure that forces lead line replacements would allow the city to receive court approval to enter people’s homes to replace lead lines if it cannot get in touch with property owners – a move city officials said is aimed at renters.
Some Newark residents expressed concern over the bond ordinance, insisting it would result in the city becoming beholden to Essex County.
“We do not need this $120 million bond,” resident Debra Salters said. “We’re going to hold the bag for that.”
Others insisted the administration and City Council have lied about how severe the lead water problem is in the city for years, resulting in distrust between residents and government officials that will not let up.
At one point, council chambers devolved into chaos when resident Munirah El-Bomani – a regular public commenter during meetings – was denied to speak by Councilman At-Large Luis Quintana, acting as council president, because she had been disruptive at previous meetings.
El-Bomani at first refused to leave the podium and was eventually led out of council chambers by three Newark police officers as residents yelled from their seats demanding she be allowed to address the council. Residents said it was the mistake of city officials to put El-Bomani’s name of a list of citizens scheduled to speak before the council Wednesday evening.
“Failure! Failure! Failure!” Newark resident Yolanda Johnson shouted from her seat toward Quintana.
Quintana, who ordered the council meeting be paused from being televised during the back-and-forth, said the council was dedicated to listening to all residents but that he would not proceed to conduct a meeting out of order.
“We cannot continue to have this kind of meeting,” Quintana said. “We’re not going to continue this yelling here.”