Jersey City Public Safety Director James Shea was grilled over the dysfunction of the city’s parking authority at a special caucus meeting last week.
At the February 2nd meeting, Council President Joyce Watterman asked if Crystal Fonseca, who is in charge of handling disciplinary matters for civilians in the public safety department, has a record or log of reoccurring incidents.
“If an infraction is observed, it’s reported to Crystal, Crystal does the investigation and prepares the chart sheet. It’s handled by an outside adjudicator and comes to me with the imposition to discipline if they’re found substantiated,” responded Shea.
“This way, Crystal’s not the judge, jury, and executioner either, she just ensures the investigation is done appropriately and that everyone is treated equally and that our recommendations are consistent across the board.”
Within moments of arriving to the meeting late, Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh came out firing on all cylinders, indicating that the process he described on paper sounds great, but is not what’s happening in real life.
He also opened up the conversation about the woes at the parking authority.
“There have been unequal punishments meted out for similar, if not identical, infractions and its created a toxic workforce environment – it needs to be addressed – and I feel as though Crystal’s hands are tied when it comes to certain individuals that would get infractions,” Saleh stated.
” … With regard to directors, [Parking Authority Director] Mary Paretti has been charged with executing the will of the council, right? When we pass an ordinance, she’s supposed to fulfill an ordinance.”
He continued that his predecessor, the late Michael Yun, introduced a measure that was approved in 2019 to change the Cocoa Bakery lot to a metered parking lot, which still hasn’t happened.
Additionally, he mentioned that the lot on Central Avenue next to the parking authority building, utilized by the post office, was made into a private lot without council approval.
“So she’s doing what she wants without even consulting with the council and it’s crazy because she used to be a council member herself. And she took out all the meters from that lot,” he explained.
“The residents in that area are wondering why the postal trucks are parking there and she made them parking spots for her pet people on the top rung of the parking authority. It needs to be liberated or I’m going to liberate it myself … it’s just a spit in the face to the residents, especially in the Heights, that can’t find parking.”
Later, Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano suggested dissolving the parking authority and putting it back under the purview of the police department.
“When they created the parking authority, they screwed this city up, they screwed all of us residents in Jersey City. It should go back to the police department and it’s a shame what’s going on,” stated Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano.
“It’s one of the biggest problems in Ward C, and all the other wards, is parking, traffic violations, non-enforcement of the laws that are going on. I strongly suggest, and I want to meet with you again and the unions, and sit down because something has to be done.”
Saleh was again vocal in voicing his displeasure, this time as it relates to enforcement.
“Again parking enforcement: the attrition in that department is insane, it has to do with the toxic work environment that is happening there. And I do hope you speak with Crystal off the record, on the record, both, regarding that,” Saleh said.
“I know individuals who tried to get positions within the parking authority, it takes months, I don’t know if that’s an HR problem or a parking authority issue. So that’s an issue. Also, when we’re looking at enforcement of the zones, they’re not enforcing the zones at all.”
He continued that cars with New York and Pennsylvania plates are often found in the Heights and they rarely receive tickets.
“I just want to put on the record, I’ve bit my tongue because I’ve tried to go through the proper channels and I’m bringing it to you because you’re the top dog, the only one between you and the mayor that can do something.”
Furthermore, Councilwoman-at-Large Amy DeGise asked why some parking authority employees are given the parking enforcement officer title and then not actually working in that role.
“When we ended the CCTV, and we had to try to find jobs for all the employees there, several of them choose jobs as PEOs, came over, and were incapable of passing the physical,” Shea explained.
“So they were given the PEO title to come over to give them an equal job and an equal salary, when they couldn’t pass the physical we assigned them to clerical duties until we could find another job somewhere in the city for them to do.”
A few minutes later, Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley said that while the Word on the Streets (WOTS) app works well for the parking authority, it is no longer being utilized by the police department.
“We’re going the other way: we’re putting it back up everywhere, once we get it paid for. The reason it was taken down by the previous chief, who is no longer there, claimed it was a safety issue, investigated, determined it had nothing to do with the safety concerns he had, but then again, before we could get it back up, the entire city shut down,” Shea stated.
” … So it’s a priority of ours. One, we have to pay it. Now, they gave it to us free because it was designed by a previous councilperson, all we have to pay for are our storage fees, which are pretty minimal: about $40,000, but we haven’t paid them.”
He further stated that project manager Chris Kearns said it was shut down the last week of January due to non-payment, but it can be brought back easily once the balance is paid.
Before switching gears, Watterman chimed in that they’d like to see a comprehensive plan to revamp the parking authority and Shea responded that they are working on that.
“If we get our way, and we get a break from what’s going on in the world, we plan on subsuming parking into a traffic division. So parking will be just one part of a traffic division,” he said.
“We really want that department revamped, we do, because we’re getting a lot of complaints. Rich said dissolve it but that’s not the right answer, you know what I’m saying, so we definitely want parking authority dealt with. That’s our concern,” replied Watterman.
Saleh echoed that sentiment, noting that it’s his belief that there needs to be a leadership change and asked if all directors are required to be in the office and signing in.
“Parking is in the office and out and before we get too deep into this, I would hesitate to say too much about things that are said unofficially to us when there is an official way to handle all these in a documented, fair, due process manner,” Shea answered.
While a significant amount of time was spent on the parking authority, the police and fire departments were also discussed, with Shea revealing that he still expects the city to eventually have a mounted police force that was first proposed in March 2020 just before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“They’ve been proven to improve police community relations, people are willing to approach them [officers] more, they have a better police presence at parks, things like that – people can see them from far away. We’re very excited about it, we just have to get it up and running again,” he said.
The city council has been conducting interviews of all city directors in the new year, and while most have done so in closed session, Shea opted to have his done in an open caucus.
While only about seven minutes of the over two hour video remained in tact, all of the audio of the meeting was preserved.
Thus far, the governing body has only voted on two appointments: removing the acting titles from Department of Public Works Director Greg Kierce, who is also the Office of Emergency Management coordinator, and Business Administrator John Metro at their New Year’s Day reorganization meeting.