The Hoboken City Council voted to appoint Jason Freeman as the business administrator last night following Mayor Ravi Bhalla’s recommendation last week, removing his acting title after roughly eight months.
“First and foremost, I know this comes out as negative against Mr. Freeman and I don’t mean that to be because I know he’s worked very hard in the role that he’s had, he’s stepped into a role that is incredibly difficult,” said 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher.
“That being said, this is a really big role, we have huge needs, and I just want to appeal to my council colleagues to support reinitiating a formal search for the BA position.”
She also noted that previous BAs had a minimum of 23 years of experience before being hired and wasn’t sure if Freeman would be the best fit given the city’s current fiscal challenges that have been compounded by COVID-19.
Council President Jen Giattino expressed dismay over the fact that this was a unilateral pick by Mayor Ravi Bhalla, who announced he’d be nominating Freeman for the post last week, on top of the fact that there was no formal applicant search for the job.
“For me, it’s just about transparency and how we’ve consistently done business in Hoboken, and when it comes to hiring a BA, the council has always been involved,” she said, later calling removing the council from the selection process “inappropriate.”
However, 3rd Ward Councilman Mike Russo and Councilwoman-at-Large Vanessa Falco both said that the mayor should be forced to live with his pick and whether or not the council agreed with it is irrelevant.
“As the saying goes: here’s all the rope in the world, go hang yourself with it. If you choose, as mayor, to put someone in a position, and it turns out that they do not have the qualifications or they turn out to be inept in that position: shame on you as mayor,” Russo said, noting that he thought Freeman had gone above and beyond during the pandemic.
“If Mayor Bhalla feels Freeman is best for the role, then let the mayor be responsible,” Falco added.
She then referenced a January 2019 vote where the council tried to limit the mayor’s office to two civil service employees (Bhalla vetoed the measure and Falco voted against the override) as evidence that some of her colleagues had a person problem with Freeman.
He served as Bhalla’s deputy chief of staff at that time.
Fisher quickly chimed in that was never the case, noting that no one was ever named in the ordinance and that Bhalla’s predecessor, Mayor Dawn Zimmer, operated with only two staffers in her office for eight years.
5th Ward Councilman Phil Cohen pointed out that Hoboken’s last BA, Stephen Marks, who left in February for a similar post in his home town of Kearny in February, had endorsed Freeman to succeed him, noting that a job search – which was cancelled due to the pandemic – wasn’t realistic at this point.
“If I’m a business administrator looking to come to Hoboken and watching this council meeting, I’m pulling my resume out,” he exclaimed.
Ultimately, the council approved the resolution to hire Freeman by a vote of 5-3(1), with Fisher, Giattino, and 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco voting no and 4th Ward Councilman Ruben Ramos abstaining.
This morning, DeFusco blasted the decision to remove Freeman’s acting title.
“I have always believed in providing young people with opportunities to grow professionally, but given the state of our finances, Hoboken needs a seasoned Business Administrator, not an inexperienced political operative, to lead us through the challenging financial crisis we continue to face,” he exclaimed.