PARAMUS — There is no evidence of contamination or illegal dumping of debris on a borough construction site to build affordable housing for disabled veterans, according to an independent report commissioned by the council.
The report also found that the councilman who raised the accusations should not have done so publicly.
The revelation of the report’s existence sparked a tense debate during Tuesday’s council meeting among the governing body and the public, most of whom are players in the borough’s Republican and Democratic parties, there to speak on different issues.
Councilman Stephen Sullivan, one of two Republicans on the dais, alleged during the June 24 council meeting that he witnessed “debris being dumped” at the construction site illegally, according to the report, which was conducted by the Teaneck law firm DeCotiis, Fitzpatrick and Cole.
Sullivan also claimed he went to the borough’s construction official, George Georgeou, about the possible contamination, and said that Georgeou was “slack” in his duties, according to the report.
But according to Georgeou’s account, Sullivan approached the construction official in May and asked what should be done if fill were dumped at the site. Georgeou apparently told Sullivan that the site’s contractor should remove it, according to the report. The councilman then reportedly told Georgeou to wait to take action.
But Georgeou reported the issue to Peter Caminiti, the project’s clerk of works who is responsible for monitoring the site. Caminiti told the investigators that he spoke with the contractor and learned they ground up four to five feet of curb for fill. In fact, there was nothing wrong with the site. Caminiti, chair of the planning board and head of the town’s Democrats, in the report called the accusations a “political stunt,” but said he would complete a contamination analysis anyway.
The discrepancies prompted Borough Attorney Paul Kaufman to advise the council to hire a special counsel to investigate. DeCotiis, Fitzpatrick and Cole was hired in July. Sullivan also was provided an attorney, but eventually retained his own.
The report concluded there was no evidence of illegal dumping or contamination or that Georgeou was withholding information.
The report further found that Georgeou – as well as the rest of the mayor and council — was first made aware of Sullivan’s concern at the public council meeting and that the councilman publicly criticized the construction official without consulting the council or administrator. Both acts could have exposed the town to liabilities, it added.
“Causing alarmism without investigating facts first should be a last resort,” according to the report.
During the meeting, Sullivan declined to comment on the report since he and his attorney did not have time to review it. In an interview Wednesday, Sullivan stood by his comments that he witnessed concrete and debris being “dumped” at the site, and that he brought his concerns to the appropriate individual, a step he said he confirmed with a state official. Sullivan added that Georgeou, as the construction code official, should have taken the matter into his own hands.
“I stand by my statement,” Sullivan said.
According to the report, Sullivan eventually produced video evidence – provided to him by Joseph Warburton, his friend and husband of Democratic Councilwoman Donna Warburton — in September of the alleged “dumping,” but the video did not show any such acts, the report found. The “debris” found on the site was tested by the state to be safe, the report added.
“I think the importance of that is that anybody who had any fear or concern about the environmental condition of the property – that concern should be alleviated,” Kaufman said during the meeting.
Kaufman recommended that the council hire an attorney or retired judge who does not have connections to the council or county to look at the report and determine if any action should be taken. On Wednesday, Kaufman declined to speculate on possible actions.
The project – which would construct six units of affordable housing for disabled veterans — is now moving forward, Caminiti said during the meeting. He added that bids to construct the buildings should be returned soon and permits to begin work are being reviewed.
“We are moving along rapidly,” Caminiti told the mayor and council.