At their first public session done virtually in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, the Jersey City Council approved an over $918,000 contract with their local employment and training program, despite the objections raised by Ward E Councilman James Solomon.
By Marc Bussanich/Hudson County View
The resolution in question authorizes the city to enter into a nearly $1 million agreement with JCETP, designating them as the administrative entity for the local Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Area (WIOA).
During the session, Solomon asked the city’s law department why they are recommending no indemnification for the Jersey City Employment and Training Program since the workforce agency no longer has insurance to pay for claims brought by whistleblower Nuria Sierra nearly one year ago.
Solomon questioned Corporation Counsel Peter Baker what indemnification language would be included in the resolution that reestablishes an agreement with the workforce agency to provide work opportunities for the city’s long-term unemployed.
“On the final draft, the city, at the recommendation of the law department, would not be indemnifying JCETP for any claims that would arise, any claims of any kind that would arise against that organization,” said Baker.
The councilman expressed concerns over a civil lawsuit alleging former JCETP Acting Executive Director Sudhan Thomas wrote checks to cash – among other financial improprieties. The case is currently in mediation.
Since then, he has been accused of embezzling $45,000 from the agency by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The insurance company that used to be a broker of the workforce agency dropped them last year, which Solomon finds worrisome since he’s not sure how the agency will be able to compensate the plaintiff in the case, Nuria Sierra.
“So, were a successful claim to be brought against JCETP how would they pay for it and how would they ensure the continuation of their services,” Solomon asked.
Baker said he couldn’t answer how JCETP would respond in that scenario, but that he had spoken to their counsel, who advised him that any funds from a potential settlement would not come out of any state or federal grants.
Nevertheless, that didn’t stop Solomon from pressing on.
“My concern is if we proceed without indemnification and she wrote us all a letter, the full council, asking for us to indemnify if we proceed without indemnification, thereâ€™s no way for us to guarantee that she is made whole. That either the money comes out of this JCEPT grant, but if it doesnâ€™t come out of the grant, then it comes out of where?”
At that point, Business Administrator Brian Platt acknowledged Solomon’s concerns and said that going forward, the city can discuss the possibility of adding further protections for whistleblowers into future contracts.
Solomon, in turn, said that while he appreciated that gesture from the city, it still didn’t substitute the potential compensatory damages Sierra could receive in her current case.
“While Iâ€™m happy to have them moving forward … if we moved forward without the indemnification … itâ€™ll be the second time that the city doesnâ€™t do right by that and I donâ€™t feel comfortable with that.”
Platt said he understood and noted that there may be a separate resolution soon for Sierra.
According to Baker, JCETP offered Sierra her old job back with a starting date early next month, contingent on any COVID-19 emergency.
Solomon noted he was aware of that development, but that still wasn’t good enough.
“Thatâ€™s my understanding as well, which I think is good and entirely up to her and good that JCETP made the offer. But, certainly we donâ€™t know what the ultimate result of the lawsuit could be in terms of the amount of money made up for lost wages and mistreatment. That is my concern,” Solomon exclaimed.
The measure passed by a vote of 6-1, with only Solomon voting no. Councilmen Rolando Lavarro, who told HCV on Monday that he is battling coronavirus-like symptoms, and Michael Yun were absent.
Chief news correspondent John Heinis contributed to this report.