VINELAND — A day after taking office, Mayor Ruben Bermudez’s first day in City Hall was busy Wednesday.
He met with department heads, well-wishers and others who will help him plan the goals for his administration during the next four years.
But there is one decision Bermudez must make quickly: What to do about an investigation, started by previous Mayor Robert Romano’s administration, into financing for the so-called Four Corners development project.
Bermudez has to make a decision rather quickly on whether to proceed with or drop the investigation. The issue is scheduled to be heard before a Superior Court judge in Woodbury, Gloucester County, on Friday. The court session was prompted by a complaint filed by Four Corners developer Hans Lampart, who is seeking to stop the investigation.
Alfred Verderose, the Romano Administration’s city solicitor who is temporarily holding the position until a new municipal attorney is appointed, said he was meeting with Bermudez on Wednesday to discuss various legal issues facing the city. One of those involves the Four Corners predicament and Friday’s pending court appearance, he said.
When asked what the city plans to do, Verderose said, “I don’t know.”
Bermudez said he knows about the legal challenge brought by Lampart but is not familiar with the exact details of the complaint. He acknowledged that the city must make some kind of decision on the issue soon.
The $40 million Four Corners project was to turn the intersection of Landis and East avenues into a sort of economic gateway into the downtown business district. The only part of the project to be completed involves the $10 million renovation of the Landis Theater Performing Arts Center. That project was built with about $4 million in Urban Enterprise Zone funds, which come from state sales tax revenue.
Members of the previous City Council, whose terms are now expired, formed an investigative committee and hired an auditing company to determine how the funds were spent. City Council members never said publicly that they knew of any wrongdoing. They said the investigation and audit were meant to quell rumors about project financing.
Among the arguments made by Lampart and his Eastern Pacific Development LLC company is that the investigative committee no longer legally exists because the terms of its members — City Council members Peter Coccaro and Mayra Arroyo — ceased to exist Tuesday.
Lampart also argues in his complaint that the court should strike a $25,000 contract extension the previous City Council awarded to the Holman & Frenia auditing form last week. Lampart contends the authorizing resolution should be struck because “a lame-duck governing body cannot bind a successor governing body.”
Lampart has contended that the previous administration’s investigation into the Four Corners finance was an election-year “witch hunt.”
Bermudez was sworn in as mayor during a private ceremony Tuesday.
New City Council members Anthony Fanucci, John Procopio, Paul Spinelli, Angela Calakos and Maritza Gonzalez will be sworn in during ceremonies scheduled for noon Saturday at the Landis Intermediate School.
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