On September 17, 2013, the City of Union City (Hudson County) agreed to pay $150,000 to its former Planning Board Attorney who sued the City and Mayor Brian P. Stack for retaliation and violation of his right to free speech.
In his suit, Mateo Perez said that Mayor Stack had “created a political machine to foster a ‘pay to play’ culture in Hudson County with the primary purpose of promoting, protecting and maintaining Mayor Stack’s political power in Union City and the 33rd District, in particular, and Hudson County politics, in general.”
He alleged an elaborate “pay to play” scheme in which the Mayor “measures and evaluates, in terms of financial donations, the loyalty and political patronage shown by individuals and companies for purposes of conferring and providing government benefits and privileges.”
Perez alleges an array of examples, from putting favored people, including Stack’s girlfriend, into Section 8 apartments ahead of the waiting list to order the Planning Board to approve some applications while denying others.
Perez claimed that he was major supporter of Stack during his initial rise in Hudson County politics. That relationship allegedly went sour after Perez “complained about Stack’s unfavorable treatment of [Housing Authority] tenants who did not support him politically and favorable treatment of unsavory tenants merely because they supported him.”
He said that Stack retaliated by preventing Perez’s father from getting a certificate of occupancy on a building, causing him “to lose about one million dollars.” Perez also alleged that Stack caused him to be fired from his jobs with the Union City Housing Authority and the Union City Library..
Also named in the suit were Virgil Cabello, the Executive Director of the Union City Housing Authority Board, and the Brian Stack Civic Organization.
The case is captioned Perez v. Stack, Hudson County Superior Court, Docket No. L-1070-12 and Perez’s attorney was Louis A. Zayas of North Bergen. Case documents are on-line here.
The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms. Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public’s right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.
None of Perez’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $150,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Union City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Union City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Perez $150,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants’ decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial–it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.