Jersey City Council President Rolando Lavarro is calling on the governing body to either form an investigative committee or use their subpoena power to investigate the local employment and training program before allocating funding for their budget.
Video by news correspondent Marc Bussanich
“In previous meetings, in June of this year, I requested a resolution to investigate employment and training prior to this information coming to light, the whistleblower coming forward,” Lavarro said at Monday’s special council meeting.
“In regards to the audit, it was at that I believe June 10th caucus meeting, where two members of the board came and spoke to us. Members of the city council expressed outrage at the idea at how funds were being expended or may not be properly appropriated over there – misused.”
To put it mildly, 2019 has been a turbulent year for the Jersey City Employment and Training Program: former Gov. Jim McGreevey was voted out on January 7th and Sudhan Thomas, also the president of the board of education, then took over as acting director.
Since then, both McGreevey and Thomas have been accused of misappropriating JCETP funds.
In the case of the the ex-governor, Thomas and a city spokeswoman have said a forensic audit has shown “millions” of dollars are unaccounted for and redirected to a statewide non-profit run by McGreevy – the New Jersey Re-entry Corporation.
As far as Thomas is concerned, a former JCEPT employee has called for the U.S. Attorney and the New Jersey Attorney General to investigate financial malfeasance under Thomas’ watch, particularly the fact that he wrote out three different checks to cash totaling $16,500.
Thomas submitted his two weeks resignation notice on July 22nd and the JCETP board has since put out a job posting to find their third director this year, planning to select someone by the end of the month.
Both McGreevey and Thomas have denied any wrongdoing during their tenures as the head of JCETP.
Lavarro said that the council had decided not to approve a JCEPT budget at their June 10th caucus meeting, prior to whistleblower Nuria Sierra coming forward, and since then he has pushed for the council to form an investigative committee to look into JCETP.
He clarified that he did not currently have any information regarding the forensic audit, though Police Chief Michael Kelly had told him last month that the audit had been forward to “federal authorities.”
The council president further stated that he would like JCETP officials to attend the August 12th caucus meeting to provide further clarity on the forensic audit and the Sierra allegations – noting that a call to discuss these matters in closed session had previously been denied.
“As we said then in June, when we had the initial conversation about this, we need to do everything we can to safeguard taxpayer dollars: the employment and training money that goes there, the CBDG money that’s gone there, and going forward,” Lavarro explained
” … This agreement with Jersey City Employment and Training has expired – we should make sure that if we’re going to renew this, whatever we decide to do with those funds, we make the most prudent use of those dollars.”
Lavarro concluded by asking the law department to draft a resolution to form a JCETP investigative committee, and if that is not feasible, then he would like to proceed by allowing the council to use their subpoena power to question those officials involved.