From the day Brigid Breivogel retired as Bayonne’s health department director and health officer, the city could not make out a ticket for health violations even if its remaining inspector – who also doubles as the city’s animal control officer – found any.
The city also could not touch more than $60,000 in grant money allocated for public health programs.
This is because the city had no one on staff with the necessary credentials.
After extensive discussion, the City Council voted Aug. 12 to approve a contract with North Bergen to provide the services of Richard J. Censullo as its health officer. Under this agreement, Bayonne would pay North Bergen $30,000 annually for Censullo’s services. Censullo was appointed by Mayor Mark Smith but needed council approval.
Censullo also has similar agreements to serve as health officer for Union City as well as North Bergen, and has been on the job in Bayonne since July 1.
Health cuts to save money
As part of a downsizing of city government, Smith has done away with the Bayonne Health Department in order to reduce costs. This has been done in several other Hudson County communities, including Secaucus.
During lengthy questioning of his credentials at the council meeting by Councilman Gary La Pelusa, Censullo said he began work in Bayonne even prior to the passage of the agreement for his payment because of the backlog he found in Bayonne.
Censullo’s hiring will allow Bayonne to access grant funds and to issue violations. North Bergen will also provide three staff members to help Censullo deal with Bayonne health issues.
Bayonne Business Administrator Terrance Malloy said the arrangement with North Bergen is not unusual. Bayonne has in the past had a similar agreement with the town of Harrison for special situations. He said the city sought to find a Bayonne resident with the necessary qualifications, and when no one came forward, the city reached out to Harrison and then North Bergen.
As a result of the agreement the city would save as much as $145,000 a year. While previous health officer Breivogel made $115,092 annually, she also served as director of the Health Department and for a time head of Bayonne Welfare Department. With car allowance for Censullo and other factors Malloy said the savings is significantly higher than what her salary had been.
La Pelusa, however, had several concerns, and asked about Censullo’s Master’s of Public Health certification that was listed in Mayor Smith’s letter to the City Council.
“I checked with the state and they said they had no record of it,” La Pelusa said.
Censullo said he received the MPH after receiving certification as a public health officer, and since it is not a requirement for his official position, he never updated the state record, or even his personal resume. As a condition of council approval, he agreed to show proof of the MPH.
The agreement also stipulated that Censullo would be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. La Pelusa asked how this was possible if Censullo also serves as health officer in North Bergen and Union City.
Censullo said the contract says he had to be available all the time, but that he would not need to be on site for inspections and other such activities. He did, however, point out that the lack of staff in Bayonne would require him to spend more time in Bayonne than in the other cities.
La Pelusa, as well as Debra Noble, a candidate for City Council, were concerned about Censullo’s priorities in the case of major emergency that affected more than one town or disasters in two or more of the towns that occurred at the same time.
Fire Chief Greg Rogers – at the request of Council President Vincent Lo Re – said that in the case of a regional emergency, local and county offices of emergency management would step in. Censullo said in the case of simultaneous disasters, Bayonne would likely be even better served since it would benefit from the combined staff of North Bergen, Bayonne and Union City, who could set up an operations headquarters to handle the situations.
“He has a fine resume. But I am concerned about this contribution.” – Gary La Pelusa
But Censullo said he did not have a choice in the matter since the destination of animals is determined by municipal council members and commissioners. He did add that he was involved in the investigation that led to the eventual closure of the facility.
La Pelusa asked to table the measure, saying that he still had outstanding unanswered questions, then voted against the agreement.
New city attorney appointment questions
In another significant move, the City Council voted to approve the appointment of Charles D’Amico as the new law director for the city of Bayonne, replacing Jay Coffey, who was fired in May.
D’Amico is the son of political heavy-weight Charles “Chips” D’Amico, and served in a variety of legal capacities, including as a member of the Hudson County prosecutor’s office. Until his appointment as law director, he also served as municipal prosecutor both in Union City and West New York, positions he said he will resign.
La Pelusa’s principal concern with D’Amico was a $2,500 contribution D’Amico made to Mayor Smith’s reelection fund in June, a short time after Coffey was fired. Although the city did advertise for the job and received two responses, La Pelusa said he was concerned by the contribution and voted against D’Amico’s appointment.
“He has a fine resume,” La Pelusa said. “But I am concerned about this contribution.”
Other council members, however, said D’Amico was well-qualified for the job.
“I know Charlie from when he worked at the county and he did a very good job there,” said Councilman Ted Connolly.
Resident Christos Ganes spoke in favor of the appointment during the public comment portion, saying he was “a great choice.”
“You couldn’t have picked anyone better,” Ganes said. “Charlie D’Amico is always on the up and up.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.