PATERSON, NJ – Last year’s massive layoffs had no impact on the staff at the city’s Neighborhood Assistance Office, the place where struggling Patersonians go to file welfare applications, seek job referrals or look for an affordable place to live.
That’s because the Neighborhood office pretty much relied on the free labor performed by people enrolled in a state-run welfare-reform program known as Community Work Experience Program (CWEP). Sometimes, as many as 17 people were performing their CWEP service time at Paterson’s Neighborhood office.
Now there are none. Last week, the city decided to stop using people from the CWEP program at its Neighborhood office, officials said. The office’s director, Nancy Grier, said that leaves just her and two volunteers to handle a massive workload.
“We’re not going to be able to serve as many people as we used to,’’ said Grier, a city employee for more than 25 years. “Everything is going to take more time because I’m only one person.’’
Councilman Kenneth Morris called the city administration “short-sighted’’ for turning away free labor and making it more difficult for Patersonians in the CWEP program to perform their requisite community service. Morris said the CWEP enrollees were well-suited to help other city residents in trouble.
“These are people from the community who know the community,’’ said Morris. “What better folks to do this?’’
Lanisha Makle, the community development director who oversees the Neighborhood office, did not respond to a message seeking her comments. Neither did her boss, business administrator Charles Thomas.
Last summer, when talk of curtailing the program first arose, Makle said Neighborhood Assistance had too many CWEP people at its office. Makle also said at that time that some CWEP staffers came to the office dressed in a non-professional way. That was a problem, she said, because the Ellison Street offices were used for other municipal purposes, and the CWEP workers were hurting Paterson’s image with such people as developers who were considering doing business with the city.
Since last summer, the number of CWEP workers at the Neighborhood office had already been trimmed down to four, Grier said.The elimination of the rest of them comes as part of a broader change at the agency.
Grier said Makle told her that the Neighborhood Assistance office was being combined with the office on Special Events as part of the recommendations of a consultant’s study.
“I asked for a copy of the study and still haven’t gotten it,’’ said Grier.
Morris, who oversees community development, said he was not aware of any consultant's report about reorganizing the department.
The controversy pits two women against each other who seemed to be political allies 18 months ago. Grier had worked on Mayor Jeffrey Jones mayoral campaign, helping him get votes in the 4th Ward. Makle, meanwhile, was among Jones’ Cabinet appointees, one of the department heads who is widely seen as part of his inner circle.
Grier now believes her city government career may be coming to an end. “It looks more and more like they’re doing this to get rid of me,’’ she said.