The city is moving ahead with the controversial plan to hire nine aides for City Council members to assist them in performing “administrative duties” and “researching data.”
Mayor Andre Sayegh’s administration began advertising the positions late last month. Municipal officials will spend $225,000 on the nine aides, each part-timer will receive a $25,000 salary, according to the job posting.
“They want aides,” said the mayor on Friday. “Talk to the council members.”
Aides will help council members in the decision-making process by collecting and analyzing data, reviewing municipal policies, gathering information through interviews, and representing council members at events.
Council members were divided on hiring aides.
“It’s to better serve the constituents,” said at-large councilman Flavio Rivera, chairman of the finance and personnel committees. He pointed out council members are part-time employees. Often, council members respond to residents during their lunch breaks or after getting out of their regular jobs, he said, when the municipal government has closed, making it difficult to address a constituent’s concerns.
Rivera said the council has the funds in its budget to hire aides. For years, the City Council budget contained more than $200,000 that went unspent – towards the end of the fiscal year the administration would transfers the money to fund other government activities.
“Our secretaries are gone at 4:30. My constituents needs stuff after 5 o’clock, 6 o’clock, and early in the morning,” said Al Abdelaziz, 6th Ward councilman. He said aides will work flexible hours, allowing them to respond to issues residents raise with their elected representatives. “You’re utilizing your aide to help deliver more products and more services to the residents.”
“I think it needs to be vetted out more,” said Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman. “We hadn’t really vetted it out amongst council members.”
Council members did not have any public discussions on hiring aides.
Some council members are firmly opposed to spending funds to hire aides.
“I am absolutely opposed to it. I think it’s unnecessary and uncalled for,” said William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman, longest serving member of the City Council. “If you apply for a job and you get hired, you can’t then go to the employer and say you need an aide.”
McKoy pointed out there was no public discussion on hiring aides and there’s no ordinance creating the jobs. An ordinance is not needed, said Rivera. Approval was obtained from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) which monitor’s the city’s finances.
“I don’t need it,” said Luis Velez, 5th Ward councilman. “Everybody on the council knew what they were getting involved in. We have other needs in the city. The taxpayers are watching.”
Velez said funds will be better used to improve services at the Department of Public Works (DPW).
“The people elected us to do a job. At this time, aides are not necessary. We’re in a budget crisis,” said Lilisa Mimms, councilwoman at-large.
Neither council president Maritza Davila nor vice president Michael Jackson answered questions about hiring aides. Shahin Khalique, 2nd Ward councilman, also did not respond to a message for comment. All three criticized the mayor for proposing to increase the municipal levy by two-percent last week.
McKoy said council members, who want aides, should go to taxpayers and make the case. Abdelaziz, who is up for re-election in less than a year, said he has no problems making the case to his constituents.
“All I’m trying to do is better serve the community. I could sell it to them,” said Rivera. He said aides will be able to follow-up on problems and resolve them. “If you use them well, I don’t see it as wasteful spending.”
The job posting for hiring aides expires at the end of Monday.