HOBOKEN - On Wednesday, the Hoboken City Council voted to eliminate the Office of Constituent Services by a 6-3 vote. Councilmembers Mike DeFusco, Vanessa Falco, Jen Giattino, Tiffanie Fisher, Michael Russo and Ruben Ramos voted in favor of eliminating the office, while Councilmembers Emily Jabbour, Phil Cohen and Jim Doyle voted against the action.
Today the Mayor announced that he will veto the Council's decision.
“The action taken by six City Councilmembers was, in the words of Monsignor Michael Andreano, an ‘abomination’ that hurts the most vulnerable members of our community in the middle of a national pandemic,” said Mayor Ravi S. Bhalla. “At a time when residents need help more than ever, Caroline Caulfield and Migdalia Pagan-Milano have gone above and beyond to help the elderly, disabled, and those most in need due to COVID-19. This unfortunate ordinance, attempting to undermine City Hall’s assistance to those in need, will be vetoed so Caroline and Migdalia can continue serving as a vital resource for all Hoboken residents."
Hoboken is currently facing a reported $14 million budget shortfall, which became apparent last December. In early April, the City announced that 26 individuals would be laid off. In the end, 11 were actually laid off, and at least 15 took an early retirement package. As the impact of COVID continues to wreak havoc on the entire economy, the City's financial woes have been exacerbated—to the point that the City is looking to implement a 5% tax levy for the third quarter in an effort to stop the bleeding.
Meanwhile, as City Council members looked to find more ways to trim the budget, the Office of Constituent Affairs and the City Engineer's office came under scrutiny.
Caroline Caulfield assumed her role in October 2018, as Bhalla resurrected the Office of Constituent Affairs—a position that had been vacant since a 2009 municipal audit. A lifelong Hoboken resident whose family runs the Fields Development Group, Caulfield formerly served as an aide to New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. Midaglia Pagan Milano, also a lifelong Hoboken resident, ran on #TeamBhalla last year for a First Ward Council seat, losing to incumbent Michael DeFusco. In the City Engineer's office, Kimberli Craft serves as an in-house coordinator of development projects.
The decision on the City Engineer's role was tabled by the Council.
Earlier this week, Council Vice President Vanessa Falco said, "It’s astonishing to see Mayor Bhalla take a position on the City Council’s effort to more appropriately fund City Hall since he remained silent when 26 people were laid off or forced into early retirement last month. Many of these employees were lifelong residents of Hoboken and played an integral role in the day-to-day operations of the City." She adds, "All we are doing is simply asking the Mayor to better allocate the funds within his own office. Instead of handing out nearly $70,000 a year in stipends to three political insiders imported to City Hall from his 2017 campaign who already bring home a six-figure salary. We were all elected to office with the responsibility of addressing constituent services, and that’s exactly what will continue to be done until those positions can be better funded in our budget.”
During Wednesday's Council meeting, over 25 letters of support from residents and those assisted by the Office of Constituent Services—including Monsignor Andreano’s letter, were read into the record.
"Any consideration of terminating Ms. Caulfield, her position or Office, would be a tragedy for the Citizens of Hoboken," said the Monsignor. "It would be a denigrating act and a shameful mark on our little Town. Such an action would be an abomination, negatively affecting our Citizens of Hoboken most in need and most vulnerable. The voice of the poor, low-income tenants, those with disabilities, senior citizens, etc, have as their instrument, Ms. Caulfield through the aforementioned office."
Dawn DeLorenzo, of the Hoboken Municipal Supervisors Association, said earlier this week, "The Mayor also stated that Caroline and Migdalia have been the 'heart and soul' of Hoboken's response to COVID. I suppose ALL the other employees have been crumbs in comparison to their heroism."
DeLorenzo added, "Strangely, he never mentions how all 30 of the employees whose jobs he banished were the 'heart and soul' of the response to multiple disasters—like 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy—during which time Constituent Affairs was determined by State Fiscal Monitor Judy Tripodi to be unnecessary. And yet amidst COVID, only their response is quantified as the heart and soul—never mind the hundreds of other employees who have served the public up close and personal for decades through times even more difficult than this."
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