Jersey City will join Newark’s push for a more powerful Civilian Complaint Review Board, after the council unanimously approved a professional service agreement with the law firm Lite DePalma Greenberg, LLC to file an amicus brief in support before the U.S. Supreme Court.
On Jan.19, Newark filed a petition before the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to overturn the New Jersey Supreme Court’s August ruling that limited its CCRB’s power by not allowing it to issue subpoenas or conduct investigations concurrently with the police department’s own internal affairs unit.
“Newark is right with pushing for more police oversight, and they deserve lots of credit for being relentless on this issue,” tweeted Mayor Steven Fulop. “As a result, Jersey City will file an amicus brief with the US Supreme Court in support of Newark’s argument that a Police Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) with proper powers should be allowed in NJ. It would promote accountability within [the] police department, improve transparency, and improve trust.”
According to the resolution, Jersey City has a substantial interest because it’s in the midst of trying to create its own CCRB.
“Mayor Fulop and the City of Jersey City will be filing an amicus brief in support of Newark and Mayor Baraka petitioning to overturn the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision to deny crucial investigative and oversight powers with a Civilian Complaint Review Board,” said spokesperson Kimberly Wallace-Scalccione. “Mayor Fulop has been a vocal and productive leader on this front alongside Mayor Baraka, as Jersey City has had great success with various community-led efforts, and a CCRB will only further strengthen police/community relations with greater accountability and oversight.”
Currently, the city has a council ad-hoc committee reviewing police policies and procedures and a Public Safety Citizen Advisory Board, though last year, a board member resigned calling it a “façade” and a “fruitless endeavor.”
The contract with the law firm is set not to exceed $25,000.
On Jan. 27, the council also adopted an ordinance allocating a medical marijuana tax to affordable housing, and an ordinance amending salary ranges for certain employees.
Funding affordable housing
The council unanimously adopted an ordinance establishing a 2 percent tax on medical marijuana sales.
One hundred percent of the revenues from the tax will be deposited into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
The fund is primarily funded through developer contributions and is used to rehabilitate or preserve existing affordable housing, construct new low- or moderate-income affordable housing, or, in limited circumstances, acquire property for affordable housing.
Jersey City Councilmen James Solomon and Rolando Lavarro supported the ordinance and funding for affordable housing but stressed the importance of finding a dedicated revenue stream to help fund the Jersey City Public School District, which faces millions in state funding cuts.
Last year they announced that they want tax revenue from recreational marijuana sales dedicated to the school system.
While voters voted to legalize marijuana last November, the bill legalizing recreational marijuana has not yet been adopted.
Salary range changes
The council adopted an ordinance to raise the maximum salary for the city’s senior administrators, department heads, and others.
The measure amends a 2019 ordinance that specified salary ranges for certain senior leadership positions to a maximum salary consistent with that for the same position established by any other “City of the First Class in the State of New Jersey.”
According to state law, that’s any city with a population of more than 150,000.
According to Corporation Counsel Peter Baker, the new salary ranges are based on what Newark offers its employees.
According to the ordinance, the amendment is needed “to be better able to attract competent, engaged and accountable employees and leaders” which in part, “requires competitive, market-based compensation for the city’s executive leadership.”
Salaries for the mayor and council members would not change under the ordinance amendment.
Members of the public urged the council not to adopt the ordinance, charging that this was the wrong time to do so.
“This is a slap in the face of every member of the public and everyone suffering during these very difficult times,” said resident Esther Witner.
“We are still in the midst of a global health pandemic,” said Frank Gilmore. “People are being backed up in taxes. People are losing their property … it’s just mind-boggling anyone would even propose that our richest of city workers would be able to even get a raise … I don’t know why this is even being considered.”
Resident Jenna Barchas-Lichtenstein said she agreed that now wasn’t the time for raises, adding that the vague language of the new ordinance makes employee salaries less transparent.
The council voted 6-3 to adopt the ordinance with several council members stating that directors have gone above and beyond during this past year and others clarifying that the ordinance changes only the salary ranges for the employees and doesn’t give employees raises, noting that is in the hands of the administration.
Lavarro, Solomon, and Ward F Councilman Jermaine Robinson voted against the ordinance.
“I don’t know how we look a voter in the face and say this is the best use of our money,” said Solomon. “I’m flabbergasted.”
He said the city has a priority list “a mile long” which needs funding, from recreation programs to rent control enforcement, noting that the 2019 ordinance creating salary ranges already gave department heads a raise.