The Jersey City Council voted down a three-year, $4,276,001 contract for crisis interventionists for 911 behavioral health call services due to staffing and community concerns.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
“Justice for Drew! Say his name! Our community is definitely crying for help,” said Tina Nalls, referring to when Andrew Washington was fatally shot by a police officer when he was having a mental health episode and wielding a knife in August.
“We were here the other night when you had the caucus. We wanted to hear your questioning of Robert Winston of the [Jersey City] Medical Center,” Ann-Marie Nazzaro, of Jersey City Together, explained.
She noted Public Safety Director James Shea spoke first on resolutions for more police officers and ammunition before leaving the meeting prior to the discussion on the mental health services contract.
Nazaro also claimed that Winston said at the caucus: “That’s what we’re proposing. But we haven’t been able to speak with Director Shea.”
“The resolution, as it stands, is not a standard the citizens of Jersey City deserve,” Carol Harris said to applause, calling on the council to vote it down.
She called for a new RFP for 24/7 services, police and emergency operator training, including mental health professionals, and funding from the Department of Public Safety instead of just the Department of Health and Human Services.
Robyn Gorman noted that the Jersey City Together proposal would have covered 160 hours a week versus the limited hours of 2.p.m. until 10 p.m. in the proposal. It also included police and mental health professionals training together.
She further called for a continued advisory committee process.
“The new RFP needs to be developed in a timely fashion but cannot be done with such speed that crucial aspects go unaddressed. We are over-policed in this city,” Gorman declared. “
Take some of the funding being wasted on the south side and please shift it towards more preventative measures.
Former Board of Education President Mussab Ali also asked for “Justice for Drew” and questioned if his family was involved in the process.
“Don’t you at least owe it to the family to listen to them and get their approval? What kind of program operates at some times on some days?” he questioned.
Ali also stood with others who called for a ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Hudson County Democratic Socialists of America’s Issac Jimenez echoed that sentiment before adding: “I’m also doubting the competitive element. We need to stop putting bullets in our young men.”
“Vote this down. We absolutely need a brand-new RFP. What was put out by the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department was not sufficient,” Gina Davison claimed, calling for 24/7 service and 500 hours of training.
Activist Edward Perkins was critical of the resolution as well.
“His family called Jersey City Medical Center repeatedly. They were unable to respond. One time, Drew’s family had to wait 6 hours for Jersey City Medical Center to respond,” he said, noting that the contract would still be handled by the JCMC.
“We’ve looked at that Public Safety budget and it’s $208 million and for what? They can’t stop a shooting … or fentanyl. We definitely want an advisory board. We’re not going to be silent. Remember the resolution for the CCRB (Civilian Control Review Board) also. We want you to drag Shea back here also. We want to meet with you.”
Board of Education Trustee Younass Barkouch said the responsibility to provide this service falls on the council and agreed that the Public Safety Department should cover the costs. He also called for a ceasefire in Israel.
“You should call for the resignation of the director [Shea.] He’s clearly incompetent,” Jim Legge exclaimed at the podium.
“Justice for Drew. Thank you for revisiting the idea of mental health responder plan. No family should have to fear that a call for help will result in a loved one’s death,” activist Elena Little said.
However, she also considered the RFP to be inadequate, also citing an issue with the hours they would be on call.
“It’s extremely important for us to understand that the service is vital. Just listening to the representative from the medical center, there’s no cohesion. It’s just so much lack of communication, lack of dialogue. I feel for the community. I’m urging my colleagues to reject the bid as well,” Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore declared.
He was the one who initially asked for the vote on the contract to be delayed last month.
Ward E Councilman James Solomon wanted clarity on what would happen if they voted the RFP down for another one.
“I was not comfortable because none of the ends were meeting on this resolution. I asked specific questions. I was always going to vote no on it. I’d rather you guys be patient so we can get this right,” Councilman-at-Large Daniel Rivera added.
“We received a memo from the Law Department saying the governing body does have to make a judgement on the proposed resolution,” Business Administrator John Metro said in response to Solomon.
“If it is voted down, we will have a quick turnaround from the RFP with input from the public,” he added to applause.
“We’re also working with you in the shaping of the RFP and the review committee,” Solomon stated.
Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey said this is an opportunity for the Department of Public Safety to be more involved, to which Solomon said there are still too many details that need to be ironed out.
“I do want to ensure we’re in conversation with the BA (Business Administrator) … and we’re trying to get it back as quick as possible,” Gilmore added.
“We’ll try to look for the December meeting … to get the RFP back out on the street,” Metro explained.
Councilwoman-at-Large Amy DeGise also chimed in that “this has very little public safety integration” as is, to which Rivera repeated that the right thing to do was vote this down to make sure they get it right.
“Hell no on 10.52, the RFP. I know that we want to get this on the agenda. I will continue to vote no if this is not spot on. If it’s not done right, it will always fail. If it’s not on the December meeting, don’t get antsy,” he stated.
“I know it was a concern about creating a board. How would long would it take us to create a board?” Council President Joyce Watterman asked.
Metro said an informal advisory board would be quicker to establish and that they would look into it.
“New Jersey Together put a lot of time into this and they were already at the table. Ann-Marie came and asked us about it. I’m trying to figure out how we’re trying to partner with them,” said Watterman, to which Metro said a formal process would take longer.
The measure was voted down unanimously (8-0), with Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley absent due to maternity leave.