VINELAND — City Council voted during a special meeting Wednesday to temporarily suspend its investigation into the financing of the Four Corners development project.
A resolution passed by a vote of 3-1, with one abstention, reads that council will decide by June 30 whether to resume the investigation.
Questioned after the meeting, council members Paul Spinelli, Maritza Gonzalez and Angela Calakos said other issues within the municipal government need to be dealt with first before the investigation can continue. Those issues primarily involve disputes between council and Mayor Ruben Bermudez, they said.
“I just can’t focus on it,” said Calakos, who was appointed several months ago to a Four Corners investigative committee with Councilman John Procopio.
Should council opt to resume the investigation, Gonzalez said she will replace Calakos on the investigative committee.
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 involved the $10 million renovation of the Landis Theater and a restaurant called Mori’s. That work was done with about $4 million in Urban Enterprise Zone funds, which come from state sales tax revenue.
The previous City Council began investigating the work after hearing concerns from residents about how the UEZ money was spent. That council never released any information indicating wrongdoing with the finances.
An issue that is occupying council’s time involves an apparent new dispute with Bermudez.
Spinelli said after Wednesday’s meeting that Bermudez is blocking the certification of funds needed for council to hire an attorney to investigate bribery allegations and possibly other actions of the municipality’s business administrator.
Council voted earlier this month to hire Atlantic County attorney Robert Pinozzotto to investigate whether Business Administrator William Lutz accused Landis Sewerage Authority Executive Director Dennis Palmer of trying to bribe City Solicitor Richard Tonetta.
Palmer charges in a legal notice lodged recently against the city that the bribery allegations are linked to the city’s proposed takeover of the sewerage authority. The allegations were heard by Calakos, who relayed the information to Tonetta, Palmer states in the legal notice.
City Chief Financial Officer Roxanne Tosto told City Council during its work session meeting Tuesday that funds are available to pay Pinozzotto. She did not outright say that Bermudez was blocking the certification of funding. However, Spinelli said Wednesday that Bermudez is blocking the certification.
Spinelli said the issue may now have to be resolved in the courts.
Contact Thomas Barlas: