Jersey City mayoral challenger Bill Matsikoudis spoke out against the city hiring around two dozen laid off Bergen County police officers at yesterday’s council meeting.
“First and foremost, this is going to deprive 25 Jersey City residents of a career in the Police Department of Jersey City. There’s a list of people out there who have taken the police exam and this is taking, usurping from them to serve in the police department,” he said.
“I don’t know the details, but if I understood what I read in the press, these laterals, who are coming from the sheriff’s department in Bergen County where they couldn’t reach a contract, have a variety of different experience – as far as years go by – I think we’re matching their salary.”
The former city corporation counsel also said that would indicate the city is paying way more than they should per officer.
The city announced on Tuesday that they planned to hire 23 laid off Bergen County police officers at no additional expense to the taxpayer, a move that was praised by Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino.
Supporters of Fulop called the move hypocritical, since former Mayor Jerramiah Healy approved of 13 lateral police transfers from other departments back in April 2012 – when Matsikoudis worked for the city.
Nevertheless, Matsikoudis added that he believes the potential hires “reeks of the familiar stench of Steve Fulop’s statewide political ambition.”
“To be candid and blunt, I think this reeks of the familiar stench of [Mayor] Steve Fulop’s statewide political ambition. You know, previously, it’s well known, that the mayor was trying to become governor of New Jersey and he started running for governor before he put his hand on the Bible to take the oath of office as mayor.”
Fulop was a leading Democratic candidate for governor for nearly two years before decided to endorse Phil Murphy and announce he would be seeking re-election in September.
Jersey City Business Administrator Robert Kakoleski reiterated that the city was seeking to hire the laid off sheriff’s officers through the Rice Act and that the move would be beneficial since the city was anticipating a number of upcoming police retirements.
“[There's] a group of retirements going on in the police department right now, so the department wants to get ahead of it and this was an opportunity to get already trained officers on the streets quickly, as opposed to hiring additional recruits, we have to wait six months and then hit the streets,” explained Kakoleski.
He further stated that a Jersey City police officer’s starting salary is $37,000 and it is unlikely that any of the sheriff’s officers being brought in would have a first year’s salary above $45,000.
Therefore the total salaries of the 23 officers being brought on is probably around $1 million.
Several media outlets reported that 25 or 26 sheriff’s officers would be hired, but the mayor’s office said again yesterday that the actual number is 23.
In an interview, Matsikoudis said he believes this is an example of Fulop trying to curry political favor in the event that Bob Menendez’s U.S. Senate seat becomes vacant.
“It’s another example of Steve Fulop trying to buy favor with powerful politicos at the expense of the taxpayer,” began Matsikoudis.
“It’s been documented in the press before how he’s spent $500,000 on a legal contract for one county chairperson and he’s also given out jobs like they’re candy to a variety of elected officials in different, important Democratic counties so he could secure the Democratic nomination for governor. And he’s trying to do the same thing now for a Senate seat that’s not even open yet.”
Menendez is awaiting a federal trial, expected to start in September, on a slew of corruption charges alleging that he used his political influence to repeatedly benefit a longtime friend and political donor.
When asked how he felt hiring the sheriff’s office would be a political power play by Fulop, Matsikoudis said laying off police officers was a “political liability” and the incumbent Jersey City mayor was providing them “a soft landing.”
Fulop has never publicly expressed an interest in running for the U.S. Senate.
A city spokeswoman declined to comment.