The city council unanimously confirmed Marge Cherone as finance director in June. On Tuesday night, some council members opposed locking her in as finance director for the next four years.
Councilman William McKoy said the four-year appointment of Cherone will “encroach” on the next administration’s ability to appoint a finance director. He said the next mayor may wish to appoint someone other than Cherone as finance director.
“I think that’s so grossly unfair,” said McKoy.
Before the council is a measure to correct Cherone’s appointing resolution which keeps her at the $140,000 post during the term of former mayor Jose “Joey” Torres. The city’s ordinance states, “Each department head shall serve during the term of office of the Mayor appointing him, and until the appointment and qualification of his successor.”
That ordinance is at odds with a state law.
Business administrator Nellie Pou cited a state statute that calls for a four-year appointment of finance director. State statute determines the term for tax assessor, tax collector, and chief finance officer, said Pou.
Pou said the appointing resolution approved in June “incorrectly” cited a local ordinance rather than the state statute.
“Why is it that we have to do this now?” said McKoy.
“Because it’s a state requirement,” replied Pou.
“Where does it say we have to do it for four years?” asked Luis Velez, 5th Ward councilman. He wanted the administration to provide copies of the state law to the council.
McKoy said it was wrong since July and there were no issues. Pou said the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) has instructed the city to correct the appointing resolution.
“I’m uneasy with a four-year term at this juncture,” said McKoy. There’s just eight months left until a new mayor takes office.
Michael Jackson, 1st Ward councilman, said the city should maintain the status quo for now. “This is a practice we have to be careful with,” said Jackson. “The practice is whomever is the mayor should be able to bring forward whomever they see fit.”
Jackson and McKoy are among a dozen possible candidates for mayor. Both men have publicly declared their intention to run next year.
The city has not had a permanently appointed finance director for 16 years, according to Pou. “All the others CFOs were all acting,” said Pou.
Cherone was the last non-acting chief financial officer. She previously worked under Torres’ administration as finance director from 2002 to 2004, according to her resume. She returned to the city as budget officer and then was elevated to finance director.
Cherone handles duties of both jobs. She has received positive reviews from council members.
“I feel very confident about Ms. Cherone. Whatever we ask. She provides everything to us,” said Shahin Khalique, 2nd Ward councilman, a member of the finance committee. Cherone this year scheduled departmental budget hearing earlier than usual; however, the council could not gather enough members to convene those meetings resulting in two cancellations. Council members in previous years complained about budget hearings not being done early enough.
Council president Ruby Cotton thought acting mayor Jane Williams-Warren should be consulted before the measure is approved. “I’m going to have a conversation with our new mayor,” she said.