Jersey City Council fails to repeal rec department reorg, approves salary increases

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The Jersey City Council on Wednesday walked back an ordinance that would have stopped the reorganization of the city’s recreation department, while also approving salary increases salaries for the mayor and council members.

A file photo of the Jersey City Council from August 5th, 2019.

By Corey McDonald/Hudson County View

While it seemed all but certain earlier this week, the council voted down an ordinance that would have repealed authorization to Mayor Steve Fulop’s administration to restructure the recreation department.

Council members James Solomon, Rich Boggiano and Rolando Lavarro voted in favor of the repeal.

The city’s recreation department has seen instability in the past several years.

The department has seen five directors in a six-year period and was rocked by accusations last year that an official adjusted payroll records so their friends and family could get paid for work they didn’t do.

The council approved the reorganization this summer, but employees began expressing discontent last month when they were told they would have to reapply for a position if they were to keep their jobs. In some instances, employees have been working for the department for more than two decades.

There were also fears that the department’s restructuring could inadvertently lead to a situation where an employee’s civil service title would be rendered inapplicable in the department after the reorganization, which could lead to violations of the state’s civil service protections for employees.

However, in a memo from the city to the council, they gave reassurances that they were following protocol, and that no one would be fired or laid off as a result.

“No one in the recreation department is losing their job” as a result of the reorganization, Jersey City Business Administrator Brian Platt said. “Period.”

Still, council members expressed confusion over the process. Solomon, before voting yes, said there were still “legitimate concerns,” while Boggiano called the handling of the reorg an “embarrassment.”

“To embarrass the the people who have worked for this organization for 20 years or more, and to put this whole thing up the way it was presented I think was wrong,” he said before casting his vote in the affirmative. “And I just can’t comprehend what they did.”

Ward F Councilman Jermaine Robinson voted no, but warned that the city would not have his support should “a lawsuit be handed down by the civil service commission to the city for anything that we have done.”

“You guys are saying that you’re following all of the rules … [so] if there’s anything at all you can count on me voting no for any legal representation,” he added.

Council President Rolando Lavarro went “a step further” and said that if the Civil Service Commission comes back with any problems with the reorganization, people would be held accountable.

“Those who suggested that this was all in compliance — if it should come back otherwise, people will be held accountable,” he stated.

“To watch the machinations of this is deeply disturbing … telling people to reapply for their jobs is telling them you don’t think much of them.”

Meanwhile, the city council approved an ordinance that raises the salaries of the mayor and city council, and establishes new salary ranges for several high-ranking, non-elected officials.

Beginning in 2020, the city’s eight council members will see their salaries increase to $50,000, while the council president would see their base salary increase to $55,000.

Those increases would rise to $60,000 by January 2021, putting the city’s legislative pay scale more in line with Newark.

Lavarro called the ordinance “far from perfect,” but “a step in the right direction.”

It did not have unanimous support, however. Solomon was the lone dissenting vote, citing worries that “huge salary ranges” could be used for political purposes.

“It’s not because I think city council shouldn’t be full time – it should be, or because directors don’t deserve raises – they should [receive them],” he said.

“But … this now means (directors’) salaries will be based on an administrative decision.”

As a result of the ordinance’s passing, department directors such as the chief financial officer and the business administrator will see bigger salary ranges – although salary bumps would be limited to a maximum of 10 percent a year.

Meanwhile, Mayor Steven Fulop could see his salary increase by nearly 40 percent if he wins re-election in 2021.

 

Follow Corey McDonald on Twitter @cwmcdonald_

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