By Brenda Flanagan
“Answers are the key to life — whether you like them or you dislike them,” said IZOD Stagehands’ Union Manager Joe Villani.
People laid off when the IZOD Center closed say they still want to know why, and today gathered at Bergen County Superior Court to support Sen. Loretta Weinberg who’s launched a legal battle seeking documents that might explain the chain of events that led the Sports and Exposition Authority to shutter the state-owned venue in the Meadowlands.
“The stated reason for closing the arena was that it was a losing venture. We have no paperwork in my opinion that even begins to prove that,” Weinberg said. “And I still have the basic question of how they went in November from having a wonderful year to suddenly losing huge amounts of money.”
Weinberg filed an OPRA — a formal request for marketing surveys, financial reports, emails and other background data — leading to the January vote that closed IZOD for two years. But the stack of paperwork she got back had so much information blacked out, Weinberg says, it was almost useless.
“And not one page of correspondence, not one page of unredacted email, letter, discussion, notes — nothing — as to why this was done,” Weinberg said.
The senator sat in court as Judge Peter Doyne defined what he would not do.
“It is clear is it not for this court to review or even consider the wisdom of the preliminary closure of the IZOD Center,” he said.
The judge wanted more information — precisely which documents did Sen. Weinberg want? Precisely why did she think those documents should be provided?
“I believe there’s a portion that’d allow you to rule on the principle, rather than on the document,” said Weinberg’s attorney Leon Sokol.
“This is an OPRA matter in which I am to determine whether the sender — or you, on behalf of the sender — is entitled to the production of certain records. Principles are too lofty for me, Mr. Sokol. I deal with documents,” said Doyne.
Attorneys representing the Sports and Exposition Authority did focus on documents and said they would not divulge certain privileged information about the IZOD deal.
“We’re not here to discuss whether the financial documents that have in fact been produced to the senator present to the OPRA requests substantiate that decision, though plainly they do,” said Sports and Exposition Authority attorney Peter Torcicollo. “We’ve tried to have a meeting where we can explain the financial information — perhaps it wasn’t satisfactory — apparently it’s not because here we are today.”
But Weinberg says this should all be public information.
“I have a major problem. I’m not gonna meet if it requires me to keep whatever I learn confidential because I’m here on their behalf and all the people who live out here,” she said.
The judge promised a decision no later than Wednesday, but said more might be accomplished if both sides made a good faith effort to sit down and resolve the issues.