After a tumultuous year and half in office, mayor Andre Sayegh on Tuesday afternoon announced a reshuffling of key positions in his administration.
Business administrator Vaughn McKoy is leaving on Feb. 14. His position will be taken over by the mayor’s current chief of staff Kathleen Long.
Della Fischer, a political operative who ran for a City Council seat nearly four years ago, will join the Sayegh administration as chief of staff, according to the announcement.
“Building a strong and well-balanced team to serve the residents of Paterson is one of my most important responsibilities as Mayor,” said Sayegh.
Sayegh heaped praise on McKoy for his “successful” effort to “streamline and improve” functioning of the municipal government. He credited him for moving the city into the state health benefit program and reforming the sewer system by restructuring rates and billing method.
Sayegh has said the health switch will save $20 million a year.
The state health plan move has been challenged by the police and fire unions; the sewer system reform was badly bungled sparking protests from residents. McKoy also “facilitated” the project that will lead to the renovation of Hinchliffe Stadium and Bauerle Fieldhouse, according to the mayor.
“Vaughn was fearless and unafraid to tackle the longstanding issues that have lingered for too long, and I am grateful for his leadership on my team,” said Sayegh.
McKoy also served on Sayegh’s transition team soon after the mayoral election. His presence at City Council meetings initially helped to quell criticism against Sayegh and his team from controversial councilman Michael Jackson. His presence also helped when protesters stormed City Hall early last year over of the death of Jameek Lowery.
“It didn’t translate due to the roll out,” said councilman Flavio Rivera, chairman of the finance committee, speaking of the botched sewer reforms. “I don’t mean to be a critic. I see a lot of complaints about DPW and issues in personnel.”
Rivera said he doesn’t want to criticize McKoy as he departs the administration.
“Vaughn performed the way the mayor wanted him to perform,” added councilman Luis Velez.
McKoy thanked the mayor for giving him the opportunity to serve as business administrator.
Long will work with McKoy over the next weeks for a smooth transition. Both worked closely under Sayegh over the past year and half, according to the announcement.
“Kathleen has re-defined the role as Chief of Staff in my Administration, bringing to bear her long track record of delivering results for the people she serves to city government,” said Sayegh. “Her work ethic is second to none.”
Long often works long hours at City Hall. However, she has come under criticism late last year as the Sayegh administration botched the sewer reforms. Some council members accused her of misleading the council during presentations that highlighted the benefits of sewer reforms.
Long was the point person for the mayor’s sewer reform package.
“In Paterson being the business administrator is not easy,” said Velez. “Good luck. This is not a piece of cake.”
Velez said he hopes Long comes prepared for the City Council meetings. “She needs to come ready to work with us. Residents are demanding answers.”
“She’s a hard worker, but needs to prove herself,” said Rivera.
“Kathleen is great. She knows her stuff,” said councilwoman Lilisa Mimms.
Fischer is leaving her position at the New Jersey Transit, where she has worked as a customer service specialist since March 2019. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Religious Education from Lighthouse Christian College.
“This is a unique opportunity to elevate a city that is already on the rise. I am looking forward to working with constituents from every walk of life,” said Fischer.
Both Fischer and Long live in Paterson.
The latest reshuffle adds to a high turnover rate at the Sayegh administration. His law director Khalifah Shabazz exited in Aug. 2019. She was replaced by Farrah Irving. His health director Paul Persaud was replaced by school board member Oshin Castillo.
Police chief Troy Oswald, who had been appointed less than two years ago by acting mayor Jane Williams-Warren, is leaving on Feb. 1, following an acrimonious court battle over salary with Sayegh, Long, and McKoy.
Sayegh hasn’t said who will be named as interim chief.
Rivera said the mayor should have considered bringing on board people with extensive experience in government when he first selected his team.
“Our city is going through tough times,” said Mimms.