The bitter fight over Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s plan to lay off 18 police officers may have come to an end.
Mayor Zimmer, Police Chief Anthony Falco, and Executive Director of the Hoboken Housing Authority Carmelo Garcia announced on Friday morning that the city – through a combination of the Housing Authority hiring five officers and a police reduction of force through retirements of some other officers – will be able to avoid the layoffs of all 18 officers.
The Housing Authority (HHA) agreed this week to hire five officers to work an overnight shift at the HHA buildings. Combined with the retirements of five other officers and commitments from some others to retire, the layoffs will be avoided and still save, in the long term, at least $2.5 million from the budget.
“This will create a safer community for the residents” – Hoboken Housing Authority Director Carmelo Garcia
The layoffs were recommended in an audit of the police department that also recommended the demotion of 19 other officers. Those demotions are scheduled to proceed in early December.
However, the layoffs of 18 other city employees became effective on Friday. “This is not a reflection of their work,” Zimmer said, before thanking them for their service to the city.
The HHA agreement needs to be approved by the City Council on Oct. 6.
The remaining layoffs of 13 officers will be postponed until Dec. 2, and will be cancelled if the expected retirements occur by that date.
Anger on Washington Street
For two straight City Council meetings, supporters of the Hoboken Police Benevolent Association, sporting yellow t-shirts which read “Stop the Zimmer Police Layoffs” picketed and protested at City Hall to stop the layoff plan.
“It appears we’re going to be able to avoid any layoffs in public safety,” Zimmer said on Friday morning.
Zimmer called the new plan a “collective effort.”
She also thanked the officers who made a “personal decision” to retire which saved the jobs of young officers.
Falco spoke about the old days when officers patrolled the streets more often.
“What’s old is new,” Falco said. “It’s going to be a pleasure working with everyone because I’ll be out there myself.”
The entire deployment plan was not made public for safety reasons, but the new system will include at least 20 police officers on the streets during the 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift. Previously, the shift had only around nine officers working the overnight beat.
Housing Authority getting their own bureau
The plan was partially unveiled to the public on Wednesday night, when the HHA voted, with Interim Corporation Counsel Mark Tabakin in attendance, to initiate a new bureau stationed at the HHA. Four patrol officers and one sergeant will work the 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift, stationed in the Housing Authority.
Previously, the HHA and the Hoboken Police had a $540,000 contract which would allow officers to work extra time at the Housing Authority. However, the plan had some holes, according to some HHA commissioners.
There were only three patrol officers and one sergeant, which means all three officers had to travel together. Now, under the new plan, two pairs of officers can monitor the HHA, while a sergeant stays in a room in the HHA and fields calls from residents. The plan will replace the $540,000 contract, and will come from the HHA budget which is funded by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and will not cost additional money from Hoboken taxpayers.
“This will create a safer community for the residents,” Garcia said.
In addition, the new plan will also establish a resident council, which will review the program.
“This is a win-win for the housing authority and the police,” said HHA Commisioner Jake Stuiver on Wednesday night, at the HHA meeting. “We’re going to save jobs and give protection to the Hoboken Housing Authority residents.”
Councilman Michael Russo called the decision a “great day” for the police and the housing authority, but believes credit should be given to former Housing Authority Commissioner Perry Belfiore, who has previously mentioned the plan.
“You can look at the tape of the Sept. 1 meeting,” Russo said on Thursday. “I spoke of the plan at that meeting...But I don’t even want the credit. Belfiore deserves the credit.”
Garcia thanked HHA commissioners past and present, and also thanked the mayor for her work on the project.
“Effective leadership and good government produced these results,” Garcia said. “Everybody benefits.”
Members of both sides of a divided City Council seemed to support the proposed plan that would save money, as the mayor and the council majority planned, and keep police jobs, like the council minority has been advocating vigorously.
“This is a great victory for the second ward,” said Councilwoman Beth Mason, a frequent Zimmer critic. “I’m glad the mayor came around to the council minority point of view. Protecting the public’s safety is our number one responsibility.” Mason had offered a resolution urging the mayor to rescind the layoff plan which was defeated by a 5-4 vote of the governing body.
Councilman Michael Lenz, who Zimmer credited with introducing the HHA plan to her, was also satisfied with the outcome.
“All that had to happen was people had to stop shouting at each other,” Lenz said. “Everyone deserves credit.”
Russo said he is 100 percent behind the police officers and is happy their jobs are safe.
“Hopefully it’s not political, where we come into a new budget year next year and we’ll be back again [with layoffs],” Russo said. “But kudos all around. I can’t thank the executive director [Garcia] enough.”
PBA happy with outcome
Hoboken PBA President Vince Lombardi said on Friday morning that he hasn’t seen the redeployment plan yet.
“I am fully confident in the chief’s capability,” Lombardi said.
Lombardi thanked the members of the public who supported the police through rallies at City Hall over the last month.
He also said the city is in negotiations regarding retirements, as well as negotiations for a new police contract, which should begin this week.
“We are moving forward to keep open the lines of communication,” Lombardi said. “Reason and logic prevailed, and the mayor made the right decision for the community.”
Vision Media, a public relations firm working with the PBA, announced the “Keep Hoboken Safe” campaign has been suspended.
The city wide plan was developed to save $2.5 million. Business Administrator Arch Liston said the city, in the long-term will still save $2.5 million, with the potential for more, depending on retirements.
Ray Smith can be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com.