Mayor Andre Sayegh’s administration and the City Council have been talking about potentially hiring aides for council members.
Under the proposal, each council member would get an aide to handle research and address constituent concerns. Nine part-time aides would be hired. Each aide will make $20,000 per year. A total price tag for aides would be $180,000, according to municipal officials.
“Hiring legislative aides is one of the items under consideration,” said mayor Andre Sayegh’s chief of staff Kathleen Long. “We are open to ways to make government more effective and efficient, and other Councils throughout the state have added legislative aides while also remaining budget neutral by finding cost savings elsewhere.”
Sayegh, who did not directly respond to the potential hiring of aides, criticized his predecessor for expanding government payroll in 2016. At one time, Sayegh called for the termination of then-mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ chief of staff Omar Rodriguez and two other employees. He called for their termination because they were political hires.
Some council members embraced the idea while others condemned it.
“Other towns have aides,” said Flavio Rivera, councilman at-large, chairman of the finance and human resources committee. “We need aides.”
Rivera named Trenton and Newark.
It’s difficult for part-time council members, who hold full-time positions elsewhere to make a living, to take constituents calls during the day, said Rivera.
“We need it badly. You should see the number of calls I get in a day,” said Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman.
Cotton noted the move might invite a backlash at a time the municipal government has raised taxes and sewer fees.
“This is my first-time hearing about it,” said Lilisa Mimms, councilwoman at-large. “Due to the financial constraints we have in our city, I don’t think it’s the right time to hire aides to help us do the job we were elected to do.”
“I’ve not been involved in that,” said William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman. “Our budget really doesn’t afford us that luxury.”
He will not be able to support the hiring of aides, said McKoy, longest serving member of the City Council.
Luis Velez, 5th Ward councilman, said he saw hiring aides as unnecessary.
Some pointed out, last year, the council forced the administration to give eight clerks $10,000 each in raises.
Clerks in the City Council Office answer constituent phone calls, among other duties, for members of the governing body.
Rivera said the City Council always had $200,000 in its budget that went unused for years. He said hiring aides will have to be a budget neutral decision.
The full council has yet to discuss the proposal to hire aides, pointed out Rivera.
“It’s just talks. We still haven’t put it through,” said Rivera.