For the second time in recent weeks, a proposal by Councilman Steven Fulop has blindsided staffers at the city’s Division of Cultural Affairs who would be affected by it.
On Tuesday Fulop announced, along with Councilwoman Nidia Lopez, plans to introduce resolutions to consolidate two city departments with their counterparts at the county level. But these plans have caught some key players off guard, including Lopez, who said she was only on board with part of the plan.
According to a joint release issued from the two council members, the Jersey City Department of Cultural Affairs would be consolidated into the Hudson County Cultural Affairs Department, and the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation would be folded into the Hudson County Economic Development Corporation.
“These are tough economic times and I think this is worth exploring.” – Bill O’Dea
The purpose of the resolutions was to notify Mayor Jerramiah Healy of the council’s intent to consolidate the two city functions so the administration could take appropriate steps, Fulop said.
At least one city director, Cultural Affairs Director Maryanne Kelleher, said last week she was unaware of the councilman’s plans for her department, and only learned of Fulop’s proposal after he issued the release.
“I was not aware that this was being proposed,” said Kelleher.
Earlier this month Fulop called for the formation of a committee to complete an inventory of the now-closed Jersey City Museum. Under the councilman’s plans, Kelleher would have chaired this committee. But, like last week, Kelleher said she was notified of Fulop’s plan only after local media outlets began calling her for a comment on the inventory.
As Fulop ramps up his run for mayor in 2013, possibly againsy Healy, he’s obviously unfolding a platform on which he can campaign. But there may have been some missteps.
“Councilman Fulop has issued a campaign press release in the attempt of gaining political traction,” Healy charged last week.
Lopez clarifies position
Like Kelleher Lopez said she was surprised by Fulop’s release.
On Wednesday she made a series of phone calls to local news outlets to emphasize that while she supports the consolidation of the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation with the Hudson County Economic Development Corporation, she does not endorse the consolidation of cultural affairs.
“I told him, ‘I do not want to be a part of trying to consolidate cultural affairs. I differ with you on that,’ ” she said. “My ward [Ward C] is the most diverse; we have the most number of ethnic groups in the city. So, I cannot sponsor something that might mean that artists from these communities get overlooked or excluded from cultural programming.”
Lopez said she saw a copy of the release before it went out and made clear she did not want it to imply that she was sponsoring both proposals. Lopez, who was on vacation when the release was issued, said the joint statement was simply poorly worded.
Healy: City, county serve different functions
Healy tried to gain some political traction of his own from the consolidation proposal and chided Fulop for what Healy called his “ignorance…for the basic principles of municipal government.”
The mayor agreed that “Merging services between a city and county, or two municipalities, makes sense when there is a duplication of services.”
But, he added, the city’s Division of Cultural Affairs and the Hudson County Cultural Affairs Department have different missions. The Jersey City tax dollars that support Kelleher’s department, he said, support local cultural events, programs, and institutions. The Hudson County Cultural Affairs Department primarily administers state and federal grants, Healy said.
Similarly, he said the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation primarily oversees the local Urban Enterprise Zone program, whereas the Hudson County Economic Development Corporation spurs business development and retention in the county.
“This measure by Councilman Fulop and Councilwoman Lopez would serve to strip the [residents] of Jersey City of their culture and identity, and would transfer the autonomy of our [Economic Development Corporation] – an independent non-profit that receives no funding from city property tax dollars – to a county agency that is responsible for several other municipalities,” said Healy. “In fact, this proposal would dedicate Jersey City taxpayer dollars to funding arts and economic development in other towns aside from Jersey City… Councilman Fulop has shown his [contempt] for the way our city works and how our communities thrive, all to once again get a self-serving press release in the paper to further his personal, political agenda.”
Despite Lopez’s split support for his proposals, Fulop has received some preliminary support from two members of the Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders. Board Chairman William O’Dea and Freeholder Anthony Romano, both of whom represent parts of Jersey City, have expressed support for consolidating redundant services before cutting essential services, such as police and health services.
“These are tough economic times and I think this is worth exploring,” said O’Dea. “It could help the residents in Jersey City, and hopefully the efficiency would be financially beneficial to the county as a whole.”
Resolutions on plans to consolidate city and county cultural and economic development departments could be introduced this Wednesday at the May 25 City Council meeting.
But Healy said the council does not have the authority to initiate such a move. Under the Faulkner Act, such a decision can only be made by the executive branch of government.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.