The Hoboken City Council approved a resolution recommending to extend Police Chief Kenneth Ferrante’s contract through 2021 instead of 2022, along with five less vacation days than what were proposed, and it’s unclear what will happen next.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“I’d like to make a recommendation to make a couple minor changes … one is to change the termination date from 2022 to 2021 and the second would be to decrease the increase from vacation [days] from 30 days to 25 days,” 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher said at Wednesday’s meeting.
She then made a motion to approve the amended version of the contract, which was quickly seconded by 4th Ward Councilman Ruben Ramos.
Assistant Corporation Counsel Alyssa Witsch said that she was unsure if such a change could be made since a two-year agreement had already been negotiated between the city and the chief.
Fisher responded that she was simply making a recommendation to the council since they’re voting on it, which could always be further vetted by both parties at a later date.
Witsch indicated that the council therefore wouldn’t actually be amending the contract, only making a recommendation, which Ferrante may not agree to.
3rd Ward Councilman Michael Russo asked if there was any way to expedite the approval process, noting that Ferrante and many other city official had been working without a contract since the beginning of the year.
“I just don’t want to lose time,” he said.
Witsch responded that she was unsure if there was any precedent to pre-approve a contract prior to it being negotiated by both parties.
At that point, Councilwoman-at-Large Emily Jabbour questioned Fisher as to why she felt Ferrante’s contract should be adjusted.
“In my opinion, I think that Chief Ferrante does a phenomenal job and I would want to keep him on as long as possible for the terms that were originally negotiated and put forward here. I don’t know why we would want to short that. Is there a rationale behind that?,” she asked.
“That’s just your position, I think some other people feel it should be a shorter term, potentially co-terminus with the mayor and … the increase in vacation [days] seems fairly high,” Fisher said back.
She also said that she, and others, believe it was the fiscally responsible thing to do while the city is still crunching numbers for a budget.
“Pay him. He’s worth it,” recently retired North Bergen Police Chief Robert Dowd wrote on the Facebook Live stream of the meeting.
Ultimately, the council approved a resolution seeking “to authorize the execution of the contract” with the amendments suggested, by a vote of 6-2(1), with Jabbour and Councilman-at-Large James Doyle voting no.
5th Ward Councilman Phil Cohen abstained.
According to the contract, Ferrante currently makes $201,075 and would receive a $5,000 raise next year. He first brought the three-year contract extension (his most recent contract expired on December 31st, 2019) to the council’s attention via a July 2nd email.
In a lengthy email, the chief, who was appointed in October 2014, said he hasn’t taken a raise over the past two years and that the Hoboken Police Department hasn’t been held liable for a single civil lawsuit.
He continued that in recent memory, the HPD continues to show metrics of success, yet it appears that some elected officials would like to move on, and therefore, he is undecided about his next move.
“In 2019, we had a double digit decrease in every crime category except homicide which remained stable at zero. We also took proactive measures due to Covid before anyone else which kept our total sick number of officers to only three which is a remarkably low number. We also handled a 10,000-person protest with precision ensuring a peaceful day without incident,” Ferrante explained.
” … After all of those items, which is just a fraction of the positive changes I brought the past six years, and all the community engagement I did, following the mission statement I brought in 2014, it appears to me that some elected officials in Hoboken, based on comments made at the City Council meeting, want to go in a different direction regarding the Chief of Police position in the near future … Right now, I am currently considering my options.”
During the meeting, Council President Jen Giattino disputed the notion that Ferrante didn’t receive a raise last year, contending that his salary was about $195,000 in 2018 and then went up to approximately $201,000 in 2019.
Ferrante explained over the phone that while his most recent raise went into effect on January 1st, 2019, that was from what he was contractually owed on December 1st, 2018 – maintaining that he declined his 1.5 percent raise in 2019.
He added that in January 2020 he declined taking another raise due to the projected financial hardships.
City spokesman Vijay Chaudhuri said this evening that Mayor Ravi Bhalla recognizes Ferrante’s success and would therefore like the council to approve the longer deal.
“Over the past 6 years, the Hoboken Police Department has been a model for modern policing under Chief Ferrante. Under his leadership, Hoboken has seen a substantial reduction in crime in virtually all categories, expanded community policing and outreach, had no complaints against officers for excessive force, and most recently, has kept residents safe throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” he stated.
“Mayor Bhalla knows he has the best police chief in New Jersey and is hopeful that the council will approve the contract that keeps him at the head of the police department for the next three years.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a comment from Vijay Chaudhuri.