NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Mayor and Acting Water Director Jim Cahill was unusually dismissive of questions about an unpopular water privatization deal that officials originally said would expire last week.
In July, New Brunswick Today exposed the secret privatization deal with NJ American Water, which was signed by Cahill without consulting the City Council, the public, or leaders in the two other communities who purchase water from the city.
That deal costs taxpayers $80,340 each month, and was only supposed to be in place for 45 days. Officials said the resignation of two employees created an “emergency” necessitating the deal.
City Hall officials said they expected the 45-day agreement to pave the way for a longer term privatization that officials promised would be brought before the City Council for a public hearing.
But, exactly 45 days after it went into effect, the Mayor was at a loss for answers when this reporter politely asked for an update while recording the conversation on a cellular phone.
At one point, the 23-year-incumbent mayor took out his out his own cell phone and jokingly shoved it in the face of this reporter.
“Gotta run,” said Cahill three times, as he attempted to blow past this reporter following a ribbon-cutting event in the Fourth Ward.
But the Mayor got sidetracked bidding someone farewell, and then reluctantly engaged with New Brunswick Today.
“What’s happening with the water? It’s been 45 days since you signed the deal,” asked this reporter.
“The water?” replied Cahill.
“Yeah, is there going to be a new deal on the agenda tonight?” asked this reporter, referring to the City Council’s August 16 meeting.
Instead of responding, Cahill stared directly into this reporter’s cell phone camera and then took out his own cellular phone and began waving it in the face of this reporter.
Amused at his own antics, the Mayor said only, “Charles.”
“Mr. Mayor,” replied the reporter.
“What!” Cahill snapped.
“It’s been 45 days,” responded this reporter. “We were promised a vote on the longer-term deal.”
“You weren’t promised that. You weren’t promised that,” Cahill said. “Be accurate with your questions,” he commanded.
But his spokesperson indeed promised that a longer-term agreement would be brought to the City Council for its approval.
“This [agreeement] is a temporary solution to a problem that we had limited time to solve,” said Cahill’ spokesperson Jennifer Bradshaw on July 3. “The longer agreement… will be brought to council for consideration.”
“So have you signed another deal?” pressed this reporter.
“When you learn be accurate with your questions, and when you learn to be truthful in your reporting then you will get longtime and honest answers as best we can possibly give it to you,” responded Cahill.
Asked directly if he had signed a new deal with American Water, he repeated the refusal: “When you learn to ask accurate questions, you will get responses.”
The reporter tried twice more to get a straight answer, raising the ire of the politician who continues to enjoy lucrative career as a government attorney, while simulataneously collecting a $99,000 pension and leading New Brunswick’s government as a part-time mayor.
“Did you not understand what I just said?” said Cahill from the passenger seat of a black city-owned Chevy Malibu. “When you learn to ask accurate questions, you will get responses.”
“That’s a fair question Mr. Mayor, is there a new deal signed with American Water?” asked this reporter, just before Cahill slammed the door to the car and Mayor’s Aide Kevin Jones drove away.
Within hours of the bizarre exchange, Cahill issued a statement via the city website blaming the uncertainty regarding the privatization agreement on “summer vacation schedules.”
“I had hoped to be in a position to submit a proposed agreement for the consideration of the City Council at its Aug. 20 meeting, but summer vacation schedules precluded that from happening,” reads the statement.
Cahill is running unopposed for an unprecedented seventh term as the city’s Mayor.
Editor’s Note: The author of this article previously worked on a campaign that successfully stopped the sale of Trenton’s water system to NJ American Water in 2010.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.