After more than a year of being out of commission, the Hoboken Office of Constituent Services is returning next year after the City Council adopted an ordinance to reinstate it.
The council voted 5-2-2 in favor of the ordinance at their Dec. 1 meeting, with Council President Ruben Ramos and Council Vice President Jen Giattino voting no, and Council members Michael DeFusco and Tiffanie Fisher abstaining.
The office, which was reopened by Mayor Ravi Bhalla in 2018, handled a number of requests and responses for residents. During the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, the office assisted more than a 1,000 residents, including recruiting volunteers to feed seniors, assisting with PPP applications, and others.
The city council had voted that year to close the office, with their reasoning being to save money from the budget gap last year because of the pandemic. But Bhalla called it’s removal an “abomination” and vetoed it after it’s initial adoption. The council however had the votes to override his veto, effectively shuttering the office doors in August that year.
“The Office of Constituent Services played a vital role in enhancing the quality of life of residents across this city on a variety of issues, and it has been sorely missed,” said Mayor Bhalla in a statement. “When this office officially reopens next year, I know it will once again help increase efficiency and the speed in which residents have their concerns and questions addressed.”
The office will look to “coordinate inquiries and requests with city departments and agencies on behalf of residents on topics including the handling of counseling and referrals for social services, tenant assistance and education, housing and employment inquiries, various quality of life issues, violations of city codes and general inquiries regarding available city services.”
Bringing back the had been a campaign promise by the Team Bhalla slate in this year’s municipal elections. The ordinance was initiated by the Bhalla administration and co-sponsored by Councilmembers Emily Jabbour and Phil Cohen, who have both run on Bhalla’s slate in the past.
“While this office should never have been eliminated in the first place, we nonetheless are fully confident that it will once again become a game-changer for constituent services,” said Council members Jabbour, Jim Doyle, and Councilmember-elect Joe Quintero in a joint statement, whom the latter two ran on Bhalla’s slate this year.
“As elected officials, we look forward to working with the administration and the future head of the constituent services office to best assist those seeking assistance from City Hall,” they concluded.
During the city council meeting, DeFusco, who had voted last year to close the office, raised concerns about how the position of coordinator in the office would be used.
“I just don’t trust this administration to use the tools in the right way,” he said. “Because I experienced firsthand that the person that held this position in the last election actually used city resources to run a political campaign,” referring to employee Migdalia Pagan-Milano, who ran against him in the 2019 City Council elections.
Fisher, who had also voted to close the office that year, said that the ordinance back then was never about eliminating constituent services.
“The reason why we eliminated it and we had enough votes to do it at the time was so that there wasn’t this loophole that allowed the mayor to have a large number of staff and then additionally have staff outside of the mayor’s office,” she said. “By eliminating the Office of Constituent Services, we eliminated that extra personal aide to the mayor.”
The city said that the office will reopen next year. They are also looking to hire a Constituent Services Coordinator to lead the office. Those who want to apply can do so at www.hobokennj.gov/jobs or email a resume and cover letter to Personnel Officer Michael Kraus at Mkraus@Hobokennj.gov.