HOBOKEN - On May 21, by a 6-3 vote, the Hoboken City Council voted to eliminate the Office of Constituent Services. 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.
Mayor Bhalla immediately announced that he would veto that decision.
On Wednesday, the Council voted to override the Mayor's veto by the same margin.
The contentious political battle came as Hoboken is currently facing an at least $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 laid off, while 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.
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.
“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," argued Bhalla
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.
Dawn DeLorenzo, of the Hoboken Municipal Supervisors Association, said last month, "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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