Suddenly down 4 board members, power struggle ensues in midst of JCETP director search

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Suddenly down four board members in the past few days, an internal power struggle appears to be underway at the Jersey City Employment and Training Program is in the midst of their executive director search. By John Heinis/Hudson County View

Robert Knapp, an 18-year veteran of the JCETP board, was appointed chair at Wednesday’s meeting, but resigned less than a day later, as HCV previously reported.

“I got home on Wednesday and spoke with my family and the feeling was just ‘do you really need the aggravation?’ and I decided that I didn’t,” Knapp said over the phone.

Since then, Knapp has called on New Jersey Department of Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo to takeover the JCEPT board, calling the current atmosphere “a disaster.”

“Unfortunately, the board appointees by the current city administration have accomplished nothing but upheaval on this board … the newly appointed board members caused dissension, cursing at other board members, etc.,” he wrote in an email sent yesterday.

“No commissioner serving our city on a volunteer basis should be subject to false accusations,” he also wrote, later asking for a review of the “destructive circumstances” underway at the agency.

A spokeswoman for the DOL did not return an email or calls seeking comment on Tuesday.

At the same meeting last week, Thomas resigned as a board member and the governing body approved a measure extending his tenure as acting executive director through September 30th.

Since then, two more board members, Mark Rowan and Rudolph Daniels, have also stepped down. Rowan declined to comment while Daniels could not be reached for comment.

In his acting executive director report from last week, Thomas acknowledged that the current makeup of the board could be an issue, stating that a “lame duck” board could hinder operations.

“Six board member changes, possibly eight of the nine-member board between now and [the next] 11 months make the current board lame duck,” the report says.

“Public body boards have a fiduciary and moral responsibility to not commit future boards to contractual commitments when the board of the day should ideally defer that that decision to a future board. There are clear laws governing what lame duck boards can make.”

Also in the report, Thomas noted that board commissioners and members of the public had inquired if four members may have conflicts of interests given that they work in city or county government (Knapp is the director of the Hudson County Division of Welfare).

Sources will knowledge of the situation, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said that allies of Thomas have sought to have Jake Hudnut, Anthony Lewis and Stacey Flanagan, the current acting chair following Knapp’s departure, leave the board next.

Hudnut is the city’s chief municipal prosecutor (who was recently reappointed), Flanagan is the Jersey City Health and Human Services director, while Lewis is a police lieutenant, as well as Mayor Steven Fulop’s driver.

According to Thomas, Flanagan had mentioned the possibility of merging JCETP with her department last year (prior to her joining the board in October), but this idea was shot down by the Department of Labor.

Furthermore, friction exists over the fact that Thomas was not appointed the new executive director and, as a result, wants to start fresh with a new board, even though that probably means the next head of the agency won’t be named until around this time next year.

As of this writing, none of the aforementioned board members have tendered a resignation and several JCETP employees, who spoke under the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation, said it was routine for government employees to serve on the board.

Some JCETP employees have expressed dismay over the infighting, with one worker telling HCV a state takeover would be preferred over Thomas being the full-time director.

“Listen … it can’t get any worse. We feel like we’re left alone and nobody’s taking care of us … Sudhan pretty much just does whatever he wants and doesn’t listen to anybody.”

Despite the current controversy, last month Thomas touted the agency’s successes under his leadership and has acknowledged that the executive director search likely won’t conclude until sometime in 2020.