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Atlantic City officials see progress in talks with state overseers
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Atlantic City officials see progress in talks with state overseers

Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver

New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver

Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver discuss the impact of COVID-19 on Atlantic City and Atlantic County

ATLANTIC CITY — The day after a clandestine summit between state and city officials, some in attendance said progress had been made toward strengthening the professional relationships involved in the complex political arrangement known as the state takeover, while others felt there was still work to be done.

All nine members of City Council and the mayor participated in a virtual meeting Wednesday afternoon with Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver and other high-ranking members of the state Department of Community Affairs to find common ground as the various entities prepare for the inevitable extension of the state’s control of Atlantic City.

The meeting — which was originally supposed to take place in November — was initiated by Oliver, who also serves as commissioner of the DCA, the state agency with direct oversight of Atlantic City as a result of the 2016 Municipal Stabilization and Recovery Act. The takeover is slated to end in 2021, but Oliver and other state lawmakers have indicated a desire to extend Trenton’s oversight of the financially distressed seaside resort.

Although the meeting was not open to the public, the absence of action or discussion of official city business meant the forum did not run afoul of the state’s Open Public Meetings Act, according to multiple legal sources.

Prior to Wednesday’s meeting, several members of the city’s governing body expressed a need to improve communication and transparency, especially if the state takeover was going to continue beyond its scheduled five-year run.

Concerns over what some council members perceived to be deliberate attempts to withhold information or intentional exclusion have progressed from occasional grumblings to frequent complaints.

Since the meeting was intended to hash out internal differences, those who spoke afterward were reluctant to go into specifics about what was discussed. But the general consensus was that those who felt aggrieved were afforded the chance to vocalize their concerns.

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Oliver was not immediately available to comment on the meeting.

Whether the meeting actually resolved any lingering issues among council, the mayoral administration and the state remains to be seen, according to a handful of elected officials who participated Wednesday.

“I’m optimistic, but I don’t even know, honestly,” said Councilman Jeffree Fauntleroy II, adding Wednesday’s summit would not be a singular event.

“I think it’s definitely a good thing for state officials, in particular the lieutenant governor, to make this type of opportunity to have conversations,” said 6th Ward Councilman Jesse Kurtz, adding he is still not convinced there is a plan to address the shortcomings of the takeover law that have contributed to the perceived lack of communication. “But I’m treating this as a first opportunity to try and move the ball forward to address these issues of transparency and really the proper role of state government in local affairs.”

First Ward Councilman Aaron Randolph said the meeting was productive. He said the overall message that communication between the state and city has to improve was clearly conveyed.

“I think we all just need to be on the same page,” Randolph said, noting he believed the meeting was a step toward accomplishing that goal.

Kurtz said one of the issues of the takeover legislation is the state’s ability to not have to explain or justify certain actions, such as vetoing approved council items or unilaterally changing policy.

“If the goal of MSRA is to strengthen local government capacity, this absence of formally notifying the governing body goes against that. It actually reduces the functioning capacity of local government and our ability to help our residents here,” he said.

Also present in the Zoom meeting Wednesday were DCA Deputy Commissioner Rob Long, DCA Assistant Commissioner Kimberly Holmes, Atlantic City Business Administrator Anthony Swan and Atlantic City Initiatives Project Office Executive Director Mike Epps.

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Staff Writer

I cover Atlantic City government and the casino industry since joining The Press in early 2018. I formerly worked as a politics & government reporter for NJ Herald and received the First Amendment: Art Weissman Memorial NJPA Award two years in a row.

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