Bhalla defends Hoboken Office of Constituent Affairs, engineer, ahead of council vote to cut them

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Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla is pushing back against measures in front of the city council to eliminate the office of constituent services and the in-house engineer, urging the governing body to remove the ordinances from Wednesday’s agenda.

Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla with Office of Constituent Affairs Chief Caroline Caulfield back on October 22nd, 2018.

By Corey McDonald/Hudson County View

The mayor released a statement, which was accompanied by letters of support from four local residents, “out of dozens submitted,” voicing their support for the office.

“During a crisis, Hoboken residents reasonably expect politics to be put aside to do what is best to keep our residents safe,” Bhalla said.

“The City Council members voicing support for this ordinance are not just playing politics with one of the most effective departments in City Hall, they’re undermining our frontline response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The ordinance to eliminate the office, among others, is primarily a cost-saving measure made by the council, as well as a move to push back against the administration’s recent layoffs.

Recent austerity measures, which have resulted in the “forced retirement” or layoffs of 26 municipal employees, were made as the city is reeling from a multi-million dollar deficit that has been severely compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“All we are doing is simply asking the mayor to better allocate the funds within his own office,” Councilwoman-at-Large Vanessa Falco, one of the sponsors of the cutting rid of the city engineer Kimberli Craft, said.

“Instead of handing out nearly $70,000 a year in stipends to three political insiders imported to City Hall from his 2017 campaign who already bring home a six figure salary. We were all elected to office with the responsibility of addressing constituent services, and that’s exactly what will continue to be done until those positions can be better funded in our budget.”

City Hall officials have not been able to provide an exact dollar amount for the budget shortfall, but city spokesman Vijay Chaudhuri previously said that the deficit is “well above $10 million,” and that the city has been losing roughly $1 million a month.

However, council members have estimated that the deficit is closer to $20 million: a roughly $14 million shortfall in the city’s operating budget, with an estimated revenue shortfall of at least $5 million.

Council President Jen Giattino, along with Council members Mike DeFusco, Michael Russo, Ruben Ramos, Vanessa Falco, and Tiffanie Fisher, have all voiced support for the office’s elimination.

“Right now, we still don’t have a budget in front of us,” 3rd Ward Councilman Michael Russo said over the phone.

“My position is really simple: I am not asking the mayor to eliminate any position in the city, I am trying to help restructure government so it runs more efficiently.”

The Office of Constituent Affairs consists of Caroline Caulfield, a former aide to U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), and and Migdalia Pagan Milano – a former council candidate endorsed by Bhalla – respectively.

An independent and nonpartisan state appointed fiscal monitor referred to the division in 2009 as “a luxury department.”

Nevertheless, Bhalla and his allies on the council, have said the office”has been the heart and soul of Hoboken’s response to COVID-19,” providing crucial services for more than 1,000 residents.

” … We urge Hoboken residents to reach out to their individual Councilmembers in advance of Wednesday’s meeting to express the need and support for the Office of Constituent Services. It is time to put partisan politics aside for the good of our community and to reject this senseless proposal,” Council members Emily Jabbour, Phil Cohen, and James Doyle said.

The office serviced approximately 2,500 requests from residents, assisted with 50 cases in coordination with the tenant advocate, oversaw 1,050 requests through the Hoboken 311 system, and sent over 6,000 emails on behalf of constituents, Chaudhuri said.

“I strongly urge the council members who voted in favor of this ordinance on first reading to put politics aside during this pandemic and remove the ordinance from consideration,” Bhalla said, taking a similar stance on the engineering department.

” … Any Council members voting in favor of this ordinance are doing a disservice to Hoboken taxpayers and unnecessarily adding hundreds of thousands of dollars to the budget in an incredibly challenging fiscal year.”

Other council members, who voted in favor of the ordinance on first reading earlier month (which passed 6-3), pushed back on Bhalla’s characterization.

“To say that it’s politics is, at least in my opinion, a political statement,” Russo began.

“We’re all in this together and everybody’s trying to do their best to make sure the city is functioning at its optimal levels with what we have during this pandemic and quite honestly, I just don’t know why we’re going down this political road.”

Others have signaled support for the city’s constituent services, and have recommended tabling the ordinances until a budget is introduced.

“This was never about eliminating constituent services or the individuals occupying this office. As taxpayers face a potential $20 million budget shortfall, the City Council initiated steps the mayor should have already taken to reduce administrative overhead which has grown significantly over the past two years,” 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher said.

“In the past, constituent services was handled and funded out of the mayor’s office. I urge Mayor Bhalla to do what’s best for Hoboken and keep the constituent services team, who serve so many, when he puts forth his proposed budget next month. I’ve recommended carrying these two ordinances until we can review that budget.”

Bhalla noted that Fisher supported the move to bring back the engineering department, along with the construction, department back in 2018, stating at the time that “these roles will pay for themselves with the reduction in third party engineering costs.”

Another ordinance up for second reading at Wednesday’s meeting would temporarily reduce the salaries and compensation of all department heads, the city council, and the mayor by 10 percent.

 

Follow Corey McDonald on Twitter @cwmcdonald_

25 COMMENTS

  1. There’s nothing that stops Caroline from volunteering her services like so many other residents do. She can join the CERT team, they’ve helped way more people than this one office in all manner of things for years or she can reach out to Hoboken Fair Share Housing and offer to help with tenant problems, they’ve been helping tenants for a while. Then there’s always the Hoboken Shelter and St. Matthew lunchtime ministry. Both are always looking for volunteers, I’m sure her unpaid services would be welcome with open arms in all sorts of ways.

    • True, lots of people help Hoboken and CERT is a great example. None of this crying took place for dozens of City workers who desperately needed their jobs. Some were the breadwinners of families with seriously ill 😷 in their household. Where were the tears for them? They don’t have a wealthy family to open doors to political jobs either. Ravi should make his fat cat staff do real work.

      Councilwoman Falco is right on the money here. This is a blip in the huge Ravi budget deficit. A blip!

      • Didn’t Falco have a politically connected family who helped get her into a nice subsidized apartment for life and a job with one of Hoboken’s biggest employers ?

  2. This is just another partisan political move by DeFusco, Falco, Fisher and Ramos and Russo in advance the elections. Anyone who as any memory of Hoboken’s history remembers the self-serving political back room deal, out right crimes and very shady national news video tapes of the Russo family and Councilman Russo himself. Then too many believe the Councilman Ramos is seeking vengeance for his mother’s removal by the State appointed his after his benefactor Mayor Roberts tailored and created a Constituent for Hispanic Affairs position for her.

    Shame on DeFusco Fisher and Giatinno who once professed to be good government reformers locking arms with those who the same people they once tried save Hoboken from.

    Shame on Falco for working to sabotage another woman of color for her own political advantage.

    • If you’re going to start shaming people, how could you forget Ravi and his administration? They are totally inept and deserve blame for this mess also. They did nothing to prevent the budget problems, they’re doing very little to solve it, and the city is going to get stuck with the bill long after they are gone. It starts with them – they created a $14mln problem before the virus with no answers – because they don’t know what they are doing.

      • If stating the truth and being honest about DeFusco Falco Fisher Giattino Ramos and Russo and their motivations is somehow considered shaming by you then so be it.

        • Look at your post. YOU ‘shamed’ them, not me.

          To be clear, no one is innocent. That said, to point fingers – sorry, ‘shame’ to use your word – the council and not the mayor’s office and administration for the current situation sure sounds like you are covering or deflecting for them.

          They have no idea how to solve this situation (or any other one, for that matter) and it doesn’t appear anyone has any confidence they ever will.

  3. Ravi is accusing others of playing politics? His office of constituent services is an unnecessary department and should be eliminated. He has two political appointments running what is virtually a taxpayer funded campaign office in City Hall. Hoboken residents are already bracing for the economic impact of Bhalla’s fiscal mismanagement. We shouldn’t have to carry the financial weight of carrying two of his political cronies in jobs that can be done by other incompetent Mayoral appointees. The City Council better remain strong and fight for the taxpayers and not allow the Mayor to use the Corvid virus to hide his political games.

    • Ravi put Hoboken into a $14 million dollar budget deficit before the pandemic. Last year, he was fighting with the City Council overs a few hundred thousand dollars in targeted cuts. It should have been several million!

      Now it is a $20 million hole. He wants to use the Chinese Communist Party virus as an excuse. Let him keep his bloated mayor’s office staff because that’s how he insulates himself from the public. This is a joke, a terrible joke but this is Ravi. He certainly shed no tears for the Hoboken people who he dumped and wait, he’s not done with them yet. Utterly shameless.

  4. Andrew is just another paid Bhalla operative using taxpayer dollars to beat up political opponents. He shouldn’t be raising the issue of “backroom ” deals. Doesn’t Andrew think his boy is being taped? We’ll see who has the last laugh.

  5. Once Hoboken emerges from it’s public health crisis, it will face a budget crisis at least equal to and perhaps greater than the 2008 one that led to state supervision, a 70% tax increase and a reorganization of the City’s then top heavy police and Fire departments.

    Solving the problem responsibly will require the Council and the Mayor working together in a thoughtful, responsible collaborative way.

    To put it mildly, this political nonsense from the Council does not bode well for Hoboken.

    • That is some serious whataboutism. But since you opened the door, why don’t you share what are your ideas for reorganizing police and fire departments?

      • It’s okay to cut municipal, fire and police but you can’t touch the fattened calf in the mayor’s office. Ravi can spend whatever he wants and run up deficits as high as he likes.

      • Whataboutism is not a complicated concept but still it seems beyond your grasp since it doesn’t remotely apply here. Hoboken deserves serious leadership from both the Mayor and the Council. Sadly, this nonsense is the opposite of what is needed.

        • And now we have avoiding answering the question. (as well as pretending that the city council isn’t properly addressing whatever your issue with the fire and police isn’t whataboutism.)

          So, what do you think should be done with the fire and police lindalou?

          • My point, made repeatedly now and pretty clearly for anyone with the reading comprehension skills of a 3rd grader, is simply that Hoboken has a real budget problem requiring serious collaborative leadership to solve, and the nonsense we are seeing from the 6 council members is the antithesis of what the City needs.

            I have not advocated for any particular approach to solving the problem. The reference to public safety was an observation of how the city solved the problem in 2008 not a suggestion for what should be done now. Indeed, the cutting of public safety fat in 2008 leaves far less fat there to cut now, making solving the problem considerably harder. The problem on the spending side is clearly healthcare costs not a bloated top heavy public safety head count or the existence of a city engineer or a couple of constituent services people, so the search for a solution should probably focus on finding health care savings and getting the unions, especially the public safety unions, to agree. Getting the public safety unions to agree to Direct 10 would go a long way to solving the problem.

            Unfortunately, on the Council side it looks like the children are in charge when the City desperately needs grown-up leadership. And that doesn’t bode well for the City which may well wind up back under State supervision unless a responsible balanced budget including the needed measures is passed.

  6. Was there a back room deal with Zimmer and her planning board duo and the Caulfields to SPOT upzone through ” redevelop ” just the “Fields” lots on an already congested Observer Highway at the gateway of Hoboken, allowing a 12 plus story high-rise??? Not long after a planning board member was hired by a company run by the same family and ms Caulfield is at City Hall. Might be legal, but it sure sounds very Hudco style.
    Let’s put aside her ability and work, its her job to perform well, and lets face it, she won’t go hungry, the people fired by Bhalla last week just might.
    Nowadays Hoboken has so many more people that help in Rent Control, Housing rights, The Homeless and Food Pantries all without a paycheck.

    • I guess this is the point when sad desperate people try to manufacture horses s*** to throw against the wall to try to slander people they oppose for their own political gain.

      • Point out the slander please.

        Caulfield not related to Fields land?

        Zoning Officer and Husband weren’t involved in SW upzoning?
        EX Planning Chair didn’t approve upzone recommendations on the planning board?
        EX Planning chair is not working for Fields / Caterra?

  7. Interesting theory about the Caulfield property, though you don’t mention what you think Zimmer got out of your imaginary deal. It’s pretty common knowledge that she was very much hands on with respect to SW redevelopment so surely she must have gotten something pretty big out of this nefarious deal for herself other than a well planned low density neighborhood with minimal added traffic. If you have a theory about that please feel free to share it. Or you could go on a riff about who you think I am, the HHA, shadows, and your theories about why Mayor Zimmer chose not to seek re-election.

    Anyway, I’m sure we can agree that the medium/long term stay hotel walking distance from the PATH proposed for the Caulfield property makes a whole lot more sense than a regular hotel twice the size on the Western Edge accompanied by a 20 story residential building.

    Speaking of deals, how would you feel about the Skyline parking lot receiving a big up-zone? I heard some folks are more than a little upset that didn’t happen back when the SW was planned.

    • Spot zoning and 17 story towers are something EVERYONE should question when Zimmer DOWNZONED neighboring land.
      Dawn Zimmer and Stand Grossbard must now regret their plan so much so they listed their townhome at a huge reduction just to escape the mess they created

    • Someone sounds a little guilty or insecure here.
      Have fun dining with Roberts, maybe you could tell him about your attacks on him here.

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