City departments merged
New public safety director approved
by E. Assata Wright
Reporter staff writer
Sep 15, 2013 | 4764 views | 0 0 comments | 188 188 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Councilman Michael Yun, second from right, was among four council members who switched their vote on the merger plan.
Councilman Michael Yun, second from right, was among four council members who switched their vote on the merger plan.
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As was previously speculated, the administration of Mayor Steven Fulop worked behind the scenes and used the high-profile hire of new Public Safety Director James Shea as leverage to force the City Council to adopt a controversial measure that will merge several municipal departments.

By a vote of 8 to 1 on Wednesday, the City Council approved an ordinance that will merge the Jersey City Police Department (JCPD), Fire Department, and Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (OEM) under a newly created Department of Public Safety. The ordinance also merged the Jersey City Incinerator Authority (JCIA) with the Department of Public Works (DPW). Another portion of this same ordinance folded the Office of Veterans Affairs, the city’s Department of Senior Affairs, and the Division of Cultural Affairs into the Resident Response Center.

It was just three weeks ago that the council first voted to reject the ordinance. Then, under pressure from the administration, they voted to table it for future consideration.
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While the broad measure was easily introduced by the City Council last month, the ordinance was controversial from the outset.
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“When we tabled this we were told that these mergers were going to be separated into separate ordinances. Now we come back two weeks later, and it’s the same exact language we tabled,” said Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano, the only member of the council who voted against the measure on Sept. 11.

The remaining members of the council – Candice Osborne (Ward E), Frank Gajewski (Ward A), Diane Coleman (Ward F), Khemraj “Chico” Ramchal (Ward B), Michael Yun (Ward D), At-large Councilwoman Joyce Watterman, At-large Councilman Daniel Rivera, and Council President Rolando Lavarro Jr. – all voted in favor of the proposal.

When the measure was originally considered, Yun, Ramchal, Rivera, and Watterman joined Boggiano in voting against it.

While the broad measure was easily introduced by the City Council last month, the ordinance was controversial from the outset.

Members of the JCPD and Fire Department were unhappy with being combined into one public safety department, and Ward C City Councilman Richard Boggiano, a retired member of the JCPD, insisted that similar mergers have failed in the past.

Other city workers and council members also questioned how the merger of the DPW and JCIA would be structured, given that DPW workers are civil service employees and JCIA workers are not.

Since the ordinance was introduced, new concerns have been raised about whether the Resident Response Center – formerly known as the Mayor’s Action Bureau – is the best place for city agencies that deal with seniors, veterans’ affairs, and cultural affairs.

In explaining why he changed his vote, Councilman Yun said, “I met with the mayor and he explained that by moving these departments into the Resident Response Center there will be greater accountability, greater efficiency. He assured me that there wouldn’t be cuts [in personnel]. So, I decided, what’s the difference, if these departments are moved from here to there? They are still serving the same functions. And I agree the mayor should be given an opportunity to execute his vision and plan for the city.”

Ramchal, who has previously expressed specific concerns about the DPW and JCIA merger, said he also met with Mayor Fulop and has asked that an ad hoc committee be set up to ensure that the merger of those two departments goes smoothly and that the workers in each department are given the greatest opportunity to ease into the new administrative structure.

Shea appointment made permanent

The adoption of the plan means that new Public Safety Director James Shea became official immediately. For the past several weeks Shea has been working in his new post in an acting capacity since the council had not formally approved his appointment, the creation of the Office of Public Safety, or the merger of police, fire and OEM under Shea’s purview.

With his appointment now out of limbo, Shea thanked the City Council and praised the on-the-job work being done by the city’s firefighters and police officers.

E-mail E. Assata Wright at awright@hudsonreporter.com.

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