Lobbyist Philip Norcross and a staffer from Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney’s office attended a Monday meeting with Mayor Don Guardian to discuss a draft memorandum of understanding giving the state control of the city’s assets.
On Thursday, Guardian confirmed the participation of Norcross and Sweeney’s staffer at the meeting, saying they were there because the MOU discussion was connected to the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes legislation waiting for Gov. Chris Christie’s signature.
Norcross’s firm, Optimus Partners LLC, represents the Casino Association of New Jersey, a supporter of the PILOT plan. Norcross has also done lobbying work in the last year for New Jersey American Water, a private water company.
The state’s draft MOU, which Guardian has said he received last week, would give Timothy Cunningham, director of the state’s Division of Local Government Services, control over all of Atlantic City’s municipal assets.
The document specifically gives Cunningham the right to “sell, convey, lease, or otherwise dispose of...water, sewer, wastewater, and storm water infrastructure.”
A resolution dissolving the Atlantic City Municipal Utilities Authority, which provides the city’s drinking water, was added to City Council’s agenda earlier this year, though Council initially tabled, then unanimously voted down, the measure.
Council President Frank M. Gilliam and Cunningham both attended the Monday meeting.
Gilliam and Guardian said Tuesday that they rejected the MOU’s terms, which required approval by Council and Guardian to go into effect.
Cunningham subsequently “apologized” for sending over the draft, Gilliam and Guardian said.
On Thursday, Sweeney’s office declined to comment on Monday’s meeting, as did Bill Nowling, spokesperson for Emergency Manager Kevin Lavin.
Norcross and a spokesman for Christie didn’t return requests for comment, either.
Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, said Thursday that he was unaware of Monday’s meeting, and wasn’t familiar with the MOU the city received from the state.
Asked why both the PILOT and the MOU were discussed in the same meeting, Mazzeo, a PILOT primary sponsor, said he wasn’t aware of a connection.
“I just want the governor to sign these (bills),” Mazzeo said of the PILOT package. “I dont know what type of ideas that he’s trying to put across to get these pilot bills signed, but I think he should just sign them and be done with it, because they’re time sensitive.”
State Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, also a primary PILOT sponsor, said Thursday that he didn’t attend the Monday meeting, but confirmed that Norcross and a Sweeney staffer were there.
Whelan said he had spoken with Sweeney’s office about the meeting, but wouldn’t comment on the substance of that conversation.
He also said he wasn’t aware of a connection between the PILOT and the MOU.
“I’m mystified as to why it’s not signed yet,” he said of the legislation. “I just wish the governor would sign the bills and we could all breathe a sigh of relief and move forward.”
The central component of the PILOT package would send a collective casino payment of $150 million to Atlantic City for two years, and $120 million to the city for 13 years after that. It was passed the Assembly and Senate in June, but Christie has yet to sign it into law.
Christian Hetrick contributed reporting for this story.