Bono Gives The Edge To 322 Vine…Will Hock Get The Boot?


The political “thermometer” at City Hall during Monday night’s special Council meeting indicated that the temperature was just about right for firing City Mgr. Jim Hock.

With five aldermen (Sweeney, Smith, Raspanti, Knight and Maloney) expressing significant dissatisfaction with Hock’s performance, only a procedural technicality – the posted meeting agenda described a discussion of Hock’s performance but no vote – appears to have kept Hock on the job for another few days, presumably until tomorrow night (7:00 p.m.) when the Council is supposed to reconvene with a properly descriptive agenda item.

Two members of the public in attendance addressed the Council in connection with Hock’s job performance.  One, a member of the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals, gave a scathing indictment of City’s staff’s performance (implicitly under Hock’s non-leadership) in connection with ZBA matters.  She branded certain staff work product as “trash” that reflected poorly on Hock.

But in our book the more damning indictment came from Cliff Kowalski, who lives next door to the mini-mansion at 322 Vine which has been the subject of an ongoing City regulatory process for the past few years that would give a Kafka novel a run for its money.

Kowalski could have criticized Hock and staff for being indecisive and ineffective in dealing with the building code violations and the resulting flooding attributed to that 322 Vine property.  But, instead, the heart of his complaint was that Hock and staff actively misled him and other affected neighbors into believing the City was actually going to take some action to remedy the problems with 322 Vine when it subsequently became clear they never had any intention of doing so.

Which points out a big problem with City government: getting a straight answer out of City Hall with Hock at the helm.

Just trying to get an accurate and complete understanding of this continuing 322 Vine saga is almost impossible because of the conflicting accounts of it – at least two or three of which seem to be coming from City Hall.  And almost all of this has gone on behind the scenes because Hock, like so many bureaucrats, acts like nothing good can come from telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth to the ordinary citizens – even about something as straightforward as the building code.

Nevetheless, there seems to be a consensus that the grade of the 322 Vine property was raised more than a foot above its neighboring properties during the construction of the mini-mansion.  Not only was that heightened elevation contrary to the plans for the construction approved by the City when it issued the building permit but, standing alone, it likely was a building code violation that could have earned the property owner a fine of between $50 and $2,500.  Per day.

When construction was substantially complete and the owner sought a Certificate of Occupancy (“CO”), we understand it was determined that the property’s drainage system built to accommodate the water that would be running of the substantial structure and its extensive paved areas did not conform to the engineering plans on for which the City issued the building permit.  At that time, however, a regulation on the books let the City accept an engineer’s opinion that the drainage system actually constructed was the effective equivalent of what had been approved on the plans that received the permit.

And here’s where the real intrigue begins and things start to get funky, if not a little kinky.   

If we understand it correctly, the City hired private engineer Bernie Bono, who opined that 322 Vine’s drainage system, as built, was the effective equivalent of the system provided for in the permitted plans.  On the basis of Bono’s certification, the City issued the CO and the owners moved in.  A question, however, has been raised about whether Bono may have had a conflict of interest because of services he allegedly performed for the property owner before undertaking his review of the situation for the City.

Frankly, we don’t have the space or the inclination to go into all the remaining details of what has happened since then, except to say that there are a lot of them and they involve an alternative drainage plan requiring swales whose locations and depths were both un-mapped and un-measured.  They also prominently feature Bono, Steve Cutaia (the City’s Building Administrator), Hock, and even the City Attorney – who is stuck trying to sort through the mess these others have made and then advise the City on whether, how, and at what cost the City might try to enforce its building code requirements against 322 Vine four years after the fact.

But the bottom line is that four years have gone by and Kowalski and the 322 Vine neighbors still don’t have a definitive answer from the City on what, if anything, can or will be done about this situation.

But it might not be Hock’s problem much longer.

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