NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—A City Councilman criticized this reporter for not owning property in New Brunswick, and then tried to prematurely end the Council’s September 2 meeting after he was asked a question about his own real estate holdings.
The undemocratic move came after Egan repeatedly ordered this reporter to “move on,” during a series of questions about the city’s Water Utility.
But Egan raised the stakes by attacking this reporter and then snapping after being asked how many homes he owns.
Four days later, Egan admitted the answer to the question is four, but instead of giving that answer on September 2, Egan attempted to end the entire meeting.
The question only came after Egan criticized this reporter for not owning property during the public comment portion of the meeting.
In the most memorable line of the evening, Egan shouted down the 30-year-old author of this article for not paying property taxes.
“What do you do? Tell me.” Egan asked. “You don’t even pay property taxes in this town. Do ya? Pay property taxes? Do you own a home?”
Egan is an elected official in a city where three out of every four residents are renters. Owning property has not been a requirement to participate in American governments for more than 160 years.
The author of this article responded with a simple question: “How many do you own… How many homes do you own sir?”
“That’s it. I’ll take a motion to adjourn,” Egan said in response.
That motion was quickly provided by Elizabeth “Betsy” Garlatti, but Councilman John Anderson declined to vote for it, and Egan quickly changed his mind.
COUNCIL PRESIDENT IN VIOLATION OF ETHICS CODE
A subsequent review of public documents revealed that Egan violated the city’s Code of Ethics by repeatedly failing to disclose his ownership stake in a rental property on New York Avenue.
When Egan joined the City Council in 2011, he and his wife Susan owned just one home: 44 Jefferson Avenue in New Brunswick.
According to his financial disclosure forms filed with the State Ethics Commission, the couple’s real estate portfolio has expanded to include at least three other properties since then, including a vacation home an hour outside of New Brunswick.
As a member of the state’s School Development Authority (SDA) board of directors, Egan is required to file a much more detailed financial disclosure form than most city officials.
On that set of forms, Egan admits to having a stake in four different properties, including two that are owned jointly through limited liability companies.
Egan’s partner in the companies is Antoine “Tony” Chedid, the longtime proprietor of Joe’s Liquors, and one of the largest private landlords in the city.
But on the disclosure forms Egan has filed with the Local Finance Board over the past three years, Egan consistently neglected to mention the property at 22 New York Avenue.
Though Egan and Chedid bought the house on May 6, 2013 for $300,000, Egan did not list it on a financial disclosure form filed just two days later.
The property is also absent from forms Egan filed in 2014 and 2015. His 2011 form listed no real estate holdings at all.
Kevin Egan’s undisclosed investment property is located next door to the home of his father, and NJ Assemblyman, Joseph Egan.
The elder Egan served on the City Council for 30 years, and is one of the state’s most prolific double-dippers, continuing to collect a state pension and a public salary at the same time.
Both men rose to power through their connection to the powerful electrical workers union.
Like his father before him, Kevin Egan now finds himself teamed with the city’s entrenched Mayor, James Cahill, as running mates for re-election every four years.
In 2011, Kevin and Susan Egan bought a second home in Ocean County’s Berkeley Township, directly across the street from Cahill’s vacation home. It cost them $350,000.
In 2012, Kevin Egan and Chedid purchased 66 Jefferson Avenue, the home next door to his own for $340,000.
The two properties owned by Egan and Chedid are both are rented to young people, a rarity in the Buccleuch Park neighborhood, one of the few places in New Brunswick where homeowners still dominate.
EGAN EARNS BIG MONEY FROM ELECTRICAL WORKERS UNION
Kevin Egan earns $9,500 per year as the City Council President, but that’s on top of his $169,798 salary from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 456, according to the website UnionFacts.com.
The two rental properties were listed with an ownership address identical to the union’s headquarters at 1295 Livingston Avenue in North Brunswick, according to the state ethics forms.
He also earns over $20,000 per year for serving on the Middlesex County Tax Board, perhaps the reason for his fixation with property taxes.
But when it comes to issues that affect workers and residents, such as the privatization of the city’s water system, Egan often defers to Mayor Cahill or passes the buck to the city’s professional staff.
New Brunswick Today made no mention of the potential ethics violation at the meeting, but merely asked the questions that sparked Egan’s attempt to abruptly adjourn the public meeting.
Egan had taken offense to accusations that the city had attempted to cover up water quality violations in 2013, and repeatedly deflected by changing topics, saying that the speaker’s time was almost up, and shouting personal attacks.
He even criticized this reporter for “speaking for people” who were not present at the Council meeting.
“Yea, exactly! Go ahead Mr. Kratovil. I don’t see anybody else here. So you’re speaking for people who aren’t even here?”
“Absolutely I am sir, and you should do the same!”
“I am,” he said, admitting to doing the same thing he had just accused this reporter of.
“No you’re not,” responded this reporter.
VIOLATIONS OF FREE SPEECH ARE COMMON AT CITY COUNCIL
The New Brunswick City Council routinely violates their own rules for how to conduct public meetings.
Egan’s predecessor and running mate Rebecca Escobar twice prematurely ended City Council meetings, and also rushed through a vote on the water privatization deal before its opponents had the chance to speak against it.
On another occasion, Escobar tried to end the meeting while this reporter was speaking, but like Egan, she gave up and ultimately yeilded the floor.
“I still have a minute on the clock,” this reporter told Egan, as Egan unsuccessfully tried to stop the public meeting.
“Nope! Nope! You already had your minute… You have been disrespectful!” yelled Egan.
Evenutally, the Deputy City Clerk started calling the Councilmembers’ names for the vote, but not everyone was supportive of ending the meeting prematurely.
After John Anderson advised Egan allow this reporter to continue speaking, Egan changed his tune.
“You get your other minute. Go ahead, go ahead. I’m not going to deprive,” Egan said.
Some City Council members also have been known to level verbal attacks against activists and other members of the public.
As we reported previously, Councilwoman Garlatti insulted an activist at a recent meeting, calling her “part of the problem.”
Like Garlatti, Egan did not hold back in his criticism of this reporter.
“Can’t come here and offer anything important or anything that’s a good message for the City of New Brunswick,” Egan said. “All you want to do is uncover some stone, that we’re under some kind of conspiracy or we’re trying to screw everyone.”
“Shame on you! Shame on you!” Egan yelled while pointing his finger at this reporter. “You’re subjective not objective, ever!”
“Matter of fact: Finish up!”
Egan kept warning that this reporter that his time was almost up, even though the official timekeeping device said otherwise.
Egan pushed for the implementation of a controversial 5-minute time limit on public remarks in 2014.
In spite of, or perhaps because of, the time limit, sparks have been flying regularly at the Council meetings, increasingly including yelling back and forth between this journalist and the labor leader.
“What do you get paid to do?” asked this reporter, in response to a deflection of responsibility to the city’s professional staff.
Egan’s response to the question about his job description was vague but positive: “I get paid to get up here and run the meetings, and care about the citizens of New Brunswick, and help the people and the citizens of New Brunswick out, and try to make this city a better place.”
FOUR DAYS LATER: AN APOLOGY FROM THE COUNCIL PRESIDENT
After Egan learned New Brunswick Today was looking into his rental property side business, he called this reporter to apologize for his behavior at the recent Council meeting, and said he would consider apologizing in public at the next meeting, scheduled for September 16.
“Charlie, this is all because you’re mad at me?” he began. “If that really hurt your feelings that much, I apologize.”
When he called to apologize, at first, Egan credited himself for ultimately deciding not to prematurely end the meeting, even though he was the one who sought to end it in the first place.
“I’m the one who said, ‘Keep going,'” Egan told this reporter, without a hint of irony.
But pressed about his behavior, he ultimately apologized for trying to cut the meeting short.
“I shouldn’t act like that,” he conceded. “I’m sorry I did that.”
When questioned by New Brunswick Today, Egan said he “hopes” and “thinks” that he declared all four of his homes on the forms.
“I hope I did. I think I did it,” Egan said. “Yes. I think I did. As far as I know.”
Egan said he reluctantly got into the real estate business to make sure the home next-door to his didn’t fall into the wrong hands, and that he approached Chedid, one of the most prominent realtors in the area, for help.
Egan said he got Chedid involved so that everything was “100% on the level,” and that he was hoping not to repeat the mistakes of “past politicians not doing the right thing with some rental properties.”
In 2003, Mayor Cahill admitted to illegally overcharging his student tenants in violation of the city’s rent control laws.
Cahill’s company issued refunds and the Mayor quit the real estate business, but some of his family members still run the real estate company known as Bishop Investors. He is still being paid back in installments for his share of the business.
The next City Council meeting is scheduled for 6:30pm on September 16, on the top floor of City Hall at 78 Bayard Street.
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.