Eight employees in the City Clerk’s Office received $10,000 each in pay increases, according to municipal records.
Pay increases for the eight clerks, most of them secretaries to City Council members, came into effect in January, but did not come to light until a budget hearing earlier in the month.
“You’d have to speak to the administration,” said city clerk Sonia Gordon on Friday when asked about the increases. She also referred request for comment to the mayor’s office.
Some council members pushed for the pay increases last year.
“I lobbied for their increase because all of them did not receive their incremental pay increases for 10 years or so,” said council vice president Michael Jackson. He has argued the clerks were not being adequately compensated for their work. “Secretaries do a great deal of work. They work late hours covering council meetings.”
Former mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ administration resisted calls to increase base pay for the secretaries. Under ex-mayor Jane Williams-Warren, the city began a process to identify the clerks’ duties and responsibilities.
“They were doing a lot of other administrative functions. The compensation needed to reflect that,” said William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman. He said the clerks were each required to write up their duties and justify the pay adjustments. This information was submitted to the state.
At the budget hearing council members were told the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) approved the pay adjustments.
“While we do require justification for salary increases and closely monitor the impact on the City’s budget, the Division evaluate requests on a case-by-case basis and allows latitude where appropriate,” said Tammori Petty, spokeswoman for the DCA.
The city changed the New Jersey Civil Service job titles for the eight employees from keyboard clerk 1, clerk 2 to administrative secretary.
Flavio Rivera, councilman at-large, chairman of the finance committee, said the city would have been better off giving the clerks stipends for attending council meetings. He said other employees in the city will view the increases as unfair.
“It breaks the morale of the whole city,” said Rivera. “It sends the wrong message.”
When asked if he thought the increases were fair to other municipal employees, Jackson said the clerks were entitled to the raise.
“I haven’t gotten around to addressing other departments,” said Jackson. “Next is the Tax Office.”
The city is grappling with a $24 million shortfall, even after $27 million in state aid is figured into the budget, in the current fiscal year that began on Jul. 1. Council members approved a 2-percent property tax increase in July.
“It’s irresponsible,” said Rivera of the pay increases.
Mayor Andre Sayegh said he was aware of talks to increase pay for the clerks while he was a councilman. “I knew they were working on it,” he said speaking of his former colleagues.
“I’m going to review this thoroughly,” said Sayegh on Friday. He said he plans to have a discussion with the city’s business administrator.
Sayegh indicated the city is unlikely to reverse the pay increases.
McKoy pointed out Sayegh boosted the pay for the constituent services job, responsible for manning the hotline, by $16,000. Horatio McKoy got $39,000 while Javier Fernandez gets $55,000.
When told Fernandez is a new hire, McKoy said, “What difference does it make? A dollar is a dollar.”
The $80,000 pay increases for the eight clerks boosted their average pay from $35,000 to $45,000.
The city’s median salary is $53,500, according to payroll data.