Jersey City Council members have adopted an ordinance amendment increasing salaries for themselves and city directors. This is the first raise the council has approved for itself since 1993, from $15,000 to $22,500 a year, with a provision for cost-of-living increases each year.
This comes after council members introduced the amendment unanimously on Oct. 10. In a Sept. 11 meeting it unanimously approved a salary increase for council aides, permitting one full-time council aide to receive $45,000 per year, or two part-time aides to receive $22,500 per year.
The council also failed to introduce an ordinance to stop the restructuring of the recreation department. Several department employees had voiced concerns over needing to reapply for their jobs, the possibility of being transferred, and the legality of the restructuring without approval from civil service. Recreation employee Sabrina Harrold informed the council at the Oct. 23 meeting that the employees will file a lawsuit against the city.
Under the newly-approved salary amendments, adopted 8-1 with only Councilman James Solomon dissenting, council members would see their salaries increase over the next 14 months from their present annual pay of $36,180 to $60,000 except for the council president, whose salary would get an extra $5,000 bump.
Under the ordinance, council members would immediately get a base salary of $50,000, which would increase to $55,000 in January 2020. By January 2021, council members would receive another $5,000, bringing their salaries up to $60,000 that year.
The council president would start with $55,000 immediately which would increase to $60,000 by January 2020 and $65,000 by 2021.
Council members could choose to waive the increase as long as they provide written notice to the director of human resources and business administrator 30 days before the effective dates.
The amendment creates fixed salary ranges for 21 employees in Jersey City’s senior leadership, department directors, and other statutory officers.
According to the table of fixed salaries, the mayor’s salary is “TBD,” but the ordinance stipulates that effective Jan. 2022 the mayor’s salary will be increased to the then-existing base for the Hudson County Executive, which is set by the Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
If this was the case today, that would make Mayor Steven Fulop’s salary the same as Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise, who makes $163,068, according to the New Jersey Office of Information Technology Data Center.
Department directors, the city clerk, and the tax assessor would be eligible for pay raises each year of up to 10 percent, pending a performance review by the business administrator and the director of human resources. In the first year after the adoption of the ordinance that salary increase could be up to 15 percent.
According to council documents, the amendments are part of the city’s commitment to modernize its employment practices and policies to be better able to attract competent, engaged, and accountable employees and leaders.
“Updated salary ranges for city senior leadership, department directors, and other statutory officers are necessary to ensure the stability of the city and departmental leadership and to provide the leadership necessary to continue to make Jersey City the best and most progressive mid-sized city in the United States,” states the ordinance amendment.
In July, Mayor Fulop and the City Council announced the city’s recreation department would undergo restructuring, adding a new focus on youth development, becoming the “recreation and youth development department.”
In a Sept. 25 memo from Director of Human Resources Marc Bunbury, employees were told if they wanted to keep their jobs when the department was reorganized in January, they had to apply for the position online the following month.
According to the memo, this reapplication was to “ensure that we have everyone in the best job for their skill set and the best people to serve our youth.”
The memo states that to be considered for any role in the new department, employees “must apply to a job posting even if the role is the one you are currently in,” regardless of their civil service status, and regardless of the fact that the salaries were not posted as part of the application.
According to the memo, interviews would take place in November. In December the city will send notices for those selected and not selected for roles in the new department. Those not selected would be informed of next steps such as title change or transfer.
If employees fail to apply, they will be notified of next steps, including “transfer to another department, title change, etc.”
Despite concerns voiced by employees, many of whom have been working for the department for decades, the council failed 3-6 to introduce an ordinance that would halt the department’s restructuring.
During the meeting, council member Denise Ridley asked corporation counsel if the council had any legal authority to stop the process, make personnel decisions, or decisions regarding titles.
Nick Strasser, of the city’s legal department, said that the council could set the department’s structure to the way it was, but it’s the purview of the administration to oversee the city’s staffing and personnel needs within the regulations set by Civil Service, and the city could move employees as long as they abide by Civil Service rules.
“While this ordinance was introduced with the right sentiment, I don’t agree necessarily with the way things are being done…” Ridley said. “But if nothing is going to change by introducing this, then I am going to vote no.”
Council member Mira Prinz-Arey said she felt the ordinance was well-intentioned, but “the way it was managed was not the right way,” and rescinding the ordinance “wouldn’t make the difference everyone’s thinking it makes.”
Business Administrator Brian Platt said there would be no layoffs as a result of the restructuring, and as such the city did not need to submit a new table of reorganization to Civil Service.
“Telling people to reapply for their jobs says you don’t think much about them,” said Council President Rolando Lavarro, who sponsored the legislation. “I’m sorry to our recreation employees, you deserve better.”
Lavarro and council member Jermaine Robinson said they would not vote for lawyer representation if the city is sued over the restructuring.
Council members Mira Prinz-Arey, Denise Ridley, Daniel Rivera, Jermaine Robinson, Michael Yun, and Joyce Watterman voted against the repeal, while Council President Rolando Lavarro, and council members Richard Boggiano, and James Solomon voted for the repeal.
Former Councilman Dan Wiley, who works for the recreation department as a senior program analyst, commended Lavarro, Boggiano, and Solomon for the votes “but I have to say this, shame on the rest of you. Shame.”