Imagine if, amidst a recession and budget deficit, the nine Jersey City council members voted to change their elected council positions from part-time to full time, awarding themselves a $90,000-per-year salary to match.
Such an ordinance was proposed by Councilwoman Viola Richardson recently, but it was withdrawn at Wednesday’s council meeting when the city attorney said it might not be legal.
At the same meeting, the council voted down several ordinances proposed by Councilman Steven Fulop that he said were intended to bring more transparency to the city and save money.
His ordinances aimed to establish new policies and procedures for the city’s TV channel JC1TV, including taping city council meetings; and to limit the use of city cars for official city business only.
An ordinance was withdrawn stipulating that council members would be paid $90,000.
Earning more money
Two ordinances that were withdrawn on Wednesday were proposed by Councilwoman Viola Richardson. They would have changed a council position from part-time to full-time starting on July 1, 2013.
Their yearly salaries would have risen from approximately $30,000 now to $90,000 per member and $100,000 for the council president.
Currently, council members also get benefits and use of a city car. Four of the council members also have full-time jobs with the county of Hudson.
Richardson said she proposed the ordinances because she sees the council position as “full-time work.” She said people don’t realize this because of its official part-time status.
But her ordinances were withdrawn after Richardson engaged in a testy exchange with Corporation Counsel Bill Matsikoudis. The attorney told her that changing the city’s charter to make the council full-time was “not permissible.”
Richardson responded that it was “unfair” for him to give her this news during the meeting since he had time to study the ordinance and give an answer sooner. But she agreed to withdraw the ordinance for further study.
Recently, council member Steven Fulop has proposed stripping council members of their health benefits if they are already getting benefits at another job, and mandating that they only use their city cars for official business. However, those proposals have been rejected by the council majority.
Defeated and then some
On Wednesday, the council voted down more of Councilman Fulop’s ordinances.
The ordinance to change the May elections to November would have also eliminated costly “runoff” elections. In those elections, a candidate who doesn’t get a clear majority of the votes (more than 50 percent) must face the runner-up in another election. In cases where several candidates are running in the same council ward, for example, the city must often have another subsequent election.
Councilman Michael Sottolano voted against the change. He said that in past mayoral elections, the victors got a small percentage of the votes to win, so a runoff was necessary. He said the small margin of victory didn’t give a winner a “mandate.”
Only Fulop and Councilman David Donnelly voted in favor of the ordinance.
As for the ordinance about taping the meetings, Councilwoman Nidia Lopez changed her mind and voted in favor of it. She said that senior citizens living in her ward told her they wanted the meetings taped because they are not always able to attend.
The channel usually shows City Hall-based programming, and has been derided by critics like Fulop as a political vehicle for Mayor Jerramiah Healy. Fulop wants the council meetings as part of the channel’s menu in order to accommodate those residents who aren’t able to attend. Only city council caucuses on Mondays are shown on JC1TV. The caucuses are the meetings in which council members decide and debate what should go on Wednesday’s agenda.
The ordinance was defeated 6-3, with Lopez, Richardson and Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com.