Under new leadership

Council selects new president, fails to override Bhalla's veto, and questions payroll

At their first meeting of the year the Hoboken City Council selected a new president and vice president, introduced an ordinance to alleviate parking costs, and questioned an increase in payroll.
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At their first meeting of the year the Hoboken City Council selected a new president and vice president, introduced an ordinance to alleviate parking costs, and questioned an increase in payroll.

At the City Council’s first scheduled meeting of the year they elected a new president and vice president of the council and appointed a representative to the Planning Board and commissioners to the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

On Wednesday, Jan. 2 the council selected Jen Giattino as council president and last year’s Council President Ruben Ramos as this year’s vice president. They were appointed in an 8-0-1 vote. Councilwoman Emily Jabbour abstained.

The council unanimously appointed Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher as their representative to the Planning Board and appointed Ann Graham, Owen McAnuff, Carol Marsh, and Steve Smolyn as commissioners and alternates to the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

The council also failed to override a mayoral veto, introduced a new ordinance to alleviate increased parking costs for residents, and questioned the administration about an increase in the payroll claims in the mayor’s office.

Mayoral veto stands

The Hoboken City Council was unable to override a mayoral veto at their council meeting.

Mayor Ravi Bhalla vetoed an ordinance on Friday, Dec. 28, which would have limited the personnel in his office.

The ordinance, passed by the council on Dec. 19, would have limited the mayor to two non-civil service or “unclassified” employees in his office once one of the three unclassified employees in his office leaves his position.

The vetoed ordinance, sponsored by Councilman Michael DeFusco, Bhalla’s opponent in the 2017 mayoral election, states that the Civil Service Act “specifically limits the Office of the Mayor to two Unclassified Service positions.”

In his veto statement Bhalla said he decided to veto the measure because the ordinance “attempts to weaken the office of the mayor” and is unlawful according to the opinion of Corporation Counsel.

At the meeting, Corporation Council Brian Aloia said the mayor’s office is entitled to not only the two unclassified employees but other unclassified titles according to Civil Service.

“In other words, the mayor can have more than two unclassified employees, just not more than one unclassified secretary and more than one unclassified assistant,” said Aloia.

Aloia said that the ordinance would not accomplish what the council wants, and the proper procedure to limit hires is to vote on how much money to allocate to a specific department’s budget.

“The way to control any department is through the budget and … all departments are limited by the budget which is set by the council,” said Aloia. “So as long as it’s in line with the budget, you are allowed to make appointments.”

The veto override failed by a vote of 5-4, with Council members Jim Doyle, Vanessa Falco, Emily Jabbour, and Michael Russo voting no.

The council would have needed six affirmative votes to pass the override.

Parking relief

After several residents came before the council to voice concerns about the increase in parking costs in municipal garages, the council proposed a new ordinance to help alleviate the issue.

This comes after the council voted in November on several parking ordinances, one of which increased the price of parking in municipal garages because they are approximately “30 percent below market rate.” Revenue from the increase was intended to be reinvested in the garages for improvements.

The new rates for monthly standard municipal parking passes for residents at Garage B, Garage D, Garage G, and Midtown, increased from $235 to $250; $185 to $240; $160 to $200; and $185 to $235, respectively. The Garden Street garage remains the same at $200.

The Jan. 2 proposed ordinance would create a three-year moratorium for residents who already have a monthly garage permit as of Dec. 31, 2018 effectively grandfathering them in to pay the same rate they were already paying for the next three years.

It also provides seniors, veterans, and individuals with disabilities a reduced monthly parking garage fee.

They would pay $190 in Garage B, $145 in Garage D, $120 in Garage G, and $145 in the Midtown Garage.

After going to subcommittee the ordinance could return for a final vote at the next council meeting on Jan. 16.

Still on the payroll

The council also amended the biweekly payment of salaries after Council President Jen Giattino said the payroll for the mayor’s office had increased because a former city employee was still working.

“There’s no transparency,” Giattino said. “It feels a little bit like City Hall is behaving like the White House.”

Falco asked Business Administrator Stephen Marks why there was an increase. Marks replied that the mayor’s office was currently paying four employees, but said he could not discuss any of the particulars until the employee in question was issued a RICE notice, a letter telling a government employee their job status will be publicly discussed.

Fisher asked why the city publicly announced that the employee was leaving at the end of November if he was still an employee. Aloia cautioned that this could identify the employee, which would be against his rights. He confirmed a fourth employee was still on the payroll without naming him or her.

Although no one identified the employee by name, the city announced in November that former communications manager, Santiago-Melli Huber was supposed to work his last day on Dec. 14.

In addition to his job at City Hall, Santiago Melli-Huber is now employed as the communications director for the City of Trenton under Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora.

“Given the matter is a personnel issue, it will be reviewed and addressed internally, as is city policy,” said city spokesperson Vijay Chaudhuri.

The amendment reduced the bi-weekly amount paid to the mayor’s office from $18,240 to $16,454 until more information could be provided.

That resolution passed 7-2, with Doyle and Jabbour voting against it.

 

Marilyn Baer can be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.com or comment online at hudsonreporter.com.