While the Hoboken City Council was unable to override the mayor’s veto on a measure related to future hirings in his office, they cut a small portion of the budget after they discovered that a former city employee was actually still on the payroll.
1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco, who sponsored the ordinance to limit the mayor’s office to two non-civil service employees once one of the three current aides depart their post, said the measure made sense as a way to make sure that the city doesn’t “operate a political operation out of the mayor’s office.”
Mayor Ravi Bhalla vetoed the measure at the tail end of last year, citing an opinion from the Law Department that said the ordinance would not have any legal standing, which Corporation Counsel Brian Aloia reiterated during the meeting.
“The mayor’s office is not only entitled to two unclassified aides, but there are ‘other unclassified titles that are utilized in the mayor’s office.’ In other words, the mayor can have more than one classified employee, just not more than one unclassified secretary or more than one unclassified assistant,” Aloia stated.
Aloia also said that the ordinance was improper since the standard procedure to limit hires per department is to vote on how much money to allocate to their respective budgets.
“As long as it’s in line with the budget, you’re allowed to make appointments,” Aloia later added.
6th Ward Councilwoman Jen Giattino, who was elected council president for the fourth time last night, reiterated the importance of checks and balance and expressed great dissatisfaction with how the mayor’s office was conducting business.
“I was told that because of a differential in pay [payroll had increased], which is not true. It’s because we are still paying an employee. There no checks and balances: I think this is really important. There’s no transparency. It feels a little bit like City Hall is behaving like the White House,” she said.
The veto override failed by a vote of 5-4, the same vote where the second reading of the ordinance was approved, with Council members Vanessa Falco, Mike Russo, Jim Doyle and Emily Jabbour voting no.
A successful veto override would’ve required six votes, not just a majority.
City spokesman Vijay Chaudhuri, as he has done previously, was quick to slam the council for pursuing the ordinance.
“Thankfully, Councilman DeFusco and Councilwoman Fisher’s vindictive law punishing the Mayor and his staff was rejected by the Council. Hoboken residents deserve Councilmembers who work on important priorities that benefit residents, not wasting time on personal attacks against the Mayor and the administration,” he said.
While Giattino’s comment about “still paying an employee” was curious at the time, it did not take long for the council to address the matter in more detail – though not as much detail as some elected officials would’ve liked.
Falco asked Business Administrator Stephen Marks what exactly had occurred for the mayor’s office to be paying a fourth employee.
Marks confirmed that the mayor’s office was currently paying four employees, as opposed to three, but said he could not discuss any of the particulars in public session until any employee in question was issued a Rice notice.
When pressed by 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, Aloia confirmed that the fourth employee in question was indeed still an active employee, not a former employee.
During the payment of claims, Giattino made an amendment to reduce the bi-weekly amount paid to the mayor’s office from $18,240 to $16,454 until more information was released about about the fourth employee.
That resolution passed 7-2, with Doyle and Jabbour voting against it.
Even though no one the dais said his name, anyone following the recent happenings in Hoboken could deduce that the employee in question was Santiago Melli-Huber.
Melli-Huber served as the city spokesman for the majority of Bhalla’s first year in office, though the city announced in November that his last day at work would be December 14th – pushed back two weeks from his initial departure date of November 30th.
His annual salary was about $72,000 and a month later Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora announced that Melli-Huber had been hired as his new spokesperson.
“The matter in question is a personnel issue. It is being reviewed internally to determine what information can be released,” Chaudhuri told HCV.
Inquiries sent to Melli-Huber and Gusciora seeking further clarity on the matter were not returned.