At the behest of Hudson County Freeholder William O’Dea and dozens of nervous and angry Jersey City Incinerator Authority (JCIA) workers, the City Council has agreed to table a proposal that, if passed, would eliminate the autonomous agency and fold its current functions into the city’s Department of Public Works (DPW).
The council unanimously agreed to table the measure, introduced on April 11, after hearing more than two hours’ worth of public comments on the controversial ordinance last Wednesday.
Fulop said he is planning to meet with several rank and file JCIA workers to discuss their concerns further.
The state Local Finance Board meanwhile confirmed last week that it is reviewing the ordinance. The board must approve the proposal to eliminate the JCIA before the agency can be dissolved.
Hundreds of jobs on the line
Last spring, the City Council passed a resolution notifying the JCIA that the city’s contract with the agency would likely be terminated in 2012. This 12-month notice is legally required before the city can end its contract with the JCIA. With the requisite 12 months nearly over, Fulop is now formally proposing the JCIA be eliminated.
But Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy has in the past suggested that a consolidation of the two agencies is the better option.
The consolidation of the two agencies, the mayor said, would be a priority this year. Plans to consolidate the JCIA, which now has about 134 full-time employees, and DPW, which has 146 full-time workers, have been discussed for the past decade.
O’Dea criticizes City Council
Freeholder O’Dea, a Jersey City resident who represents the city on the Hudson County Board of Freeholders, railed against the council for failing to understand the scope and limitations of the various reports that have been commissioned on consolidation plans.
He also noted that since the DPW is a department that has civil service protections, it would be impossible to simply absorb JCIA workers in to the DPW. Under civil service rules, workers with seniority who are slated to be laid off can “bump” employees with less seniority. Any cuts made at the DPW to make way for JCIA workers would directly affect employees working at the bottom of the two agencies, several people argued Wednesday.
Former City Councilwoman and Board of Education Trustee Francis O. Thompson addressed the governing body, insisting, “When I was a councilperson, we did our homework…We researched, we studied, and at no time could someone like Billy O’Dea come up here with research and statistics and we didn’t have the answers.”
Second Chance grads praise program
As the cornerstone of the city’s Second Chance program for ex-offenders, several graduates of the program who are now employed credited Second Change for turning their lives around.
Launched in 2001 by the late Glenn D. Cunningham when he was mayor, the Second Chance Program gives non-violent ex-offenders job skills through the JCIA. Since the program was started, at least 60 Jersey City residents have completed the Second Chance Program and have been hired, either by the city or some other employer, according to JCIA CEO Oren Dabney. About 30 to 35 of these graduates currently work for the JCIA, he said, and the remainder found jobs elsewhere.
Matthis Sharpless attended the council with his 16-month-old twin sons, Marlon and Matthis, telling the council the Second Chance Program enabled him to provide for his family.
“I’m not proud to say this, I am an ex-offender,” Sharpless told the council. “Early in my years I had some problems. I got in trouble…I met the distinguished Glenn Cunningham and I explained to him the pitfalls that I was going through in trying to become a public servant and do the right thing.”
With Cunningham’s help, Sharpless became one of the first graduates of the Second Chance program. Today, he said, he is an employed married father of twins. He said he was on his way to becoming a homeowner and taxpayer through the Live Where You Work program, but has now put those plans on hold since he isn’t sure how long he’ll still have his job at the JCIA.
“If this ordinance passes it’s going to demolish families who are trying to rebuild,” Sharpless, a Fulop supporter, said, addressing the councilman.
Another employee, Darlene Costa, said, “I love my job. I couldn’t get a job before because I have a criminal record for a drug charge. But when I got into that Second Chance Program, my whole life changed.”
Assad Pinkney, another graduate, credited the program with “making me a man.”
Other community members who attended the public hearing addressed the larger societal impact of the Second Chance Program.
“This is what really makes me mad, when ex-offenders come out [of jail], they’re not coming to your neighborhood,” said former warden Ralph Green, pointing to Fulop. “They’re not coming home to Ward E. They’re coming home to Ward F. And you wonder why crime in our neighborhood is so high.”
Initiatives like Second Chance help stabilize families and neighborhoods by giving troubled community members marketable skills and economic stability, said Green.
Several other residents and taxpayers also spoke in support of the JCIA employees and expressed concern about the possible elimination of the agency. These residents gave the JCIA high marks for being responsive to the requests and needs of neighborhood associations.
Fulop, Richardson respond
Most members of the council did not address those who spoke from the community. But as the council member who introduced the ordinance to eliminate the JCIA several workers addressed Fulop directly and he eventually responded.
“The goal of putting this forward is not to get rid of the Second Chance Program,” Fulop said. “I believe you can enhance it and make it better. It was reported in the [Jersey City Reporter] that there have been 60 graduates of the Second Chance Program in 11 years. That comes to five per year. Why can’t we do 10 or 15?”
The consolidation of the JCIA and DPW, he added, “is not about cutting at the bottom, it’s about cutting at the top.”
Redundant jobs at the management and professional services level are what would be eliminated under his consolidation plan, Fulop said, not the rank and file workers on the street.
In a sidebar conversation with Councilman David Donnelly, an exasperated O’Dea exclaimed, “Does this guy not understand how Civil Service works?” referring to Fulop.
Councilwoman At-Large Viola Richardson later countered Fulop, saying, “We keep hearing that the JCIA and DPW are ‘top heavy.’ But there are a whole lot of other departments in this city that are more top heavy than the DPW and JCIA. I don’t hear any plans to cut those departments.”
When Fulop’s proposal was introduced on April 11, Richardson and Ward F Councilwoman Michele Massey were the only two members of the council who voted against introduction.
State reviewing proposal
The council voted unanimously to table the ordinance so it can be examined more closely.
The city has, meanwhile, sent the ordinance to the Local Finance Board in Trenton for review.
“The board received an application,” said spokesperson Lisa Ryan. “It is in the process of being reviewed. We won’t comment further until we have completed a review and have had a chance to discuss it with the applicant. The next board meeting will be May 9 and the application may be heard then, if the application is sufficient.”
If approved by the city council and the state Local Finance Board, consolidation would begin sometime in spring 2013.
Fulop told the Reporter he is planning to meet with several rank and file JCIA workers to discuss their concerns further.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.