Council president Julio Tavarez took offense to councilman Kenneth Morris’ intimation that the city has enough Hispanic representation.
“The councilman said diversity has been achieved because we have the mayor and three council members who are Hispanic. Therefore we have enough representation in Morris’ opinion,” said Tavarez citing a news report from Tuesday. “I find it offensive that someone from another community can come and tell our community that we have enough representation.”
“I made a statement of fact. What race is the mayor?” said Morris, councilman at-large. “If he takes offense to it that’s his issue.”
Morris responded to Tavarez’s hail to make the city clerk’s office more diverse by stating the mayor is Hispanic, the business administrator is Hispanic, and the city council president is Hispanic.
Tavarez said Morris did not say African-Americans had sufficient representation when mayor Jeffery Jones was in power with almost every department with a black director. “At no point in time I heard councilman Morris say, ‘I think we have enough representation of African-Americans in the city hall, therefore we need no more representation,’” said Tavarez. “It’s very offensive for someone to flip the card and say ‘oh, they have enough people already.”
Presently, the clerk’s office has 11 employees, including the city clerk and the deputy clerk, of which two are Hispanic, one white, and the rest black. “There’s one person that speaks Spanish there,” commented Tavarez. The council president said if the office was packed with Hispanics, Morris would call for African-American representation.
Breaking her silence, city clerk Jane Williams-Warren said there are also two interns: one black and the other Hispanic. She said there was another Hispanic secretary, who recently passed away.
Williams-Warren said just few years ago the clerk’s office hired two Hispanic employees through the Public Archives and Records Infrastructure Support (PARIS) Grant. One did not qualify and the other was hired at $60,000 salary retiring in 2012-13. The office also had another Hispanic employee, who was recently moved to the finance department as a billings clerk, she said. The city council’s stenographer, an independent contractor, is also Hispanic, Williams-Warren said.
“This office has always been diverse,” said Williams-Warren.
When hiring race has never been a factor, said Williams-Warren. She said she has taken the advice of council members prior to hiring in most cases. She sought suggestions from Tavarez as well in the past, she said.
“Ethnicity only should come into play if there’s been a demonstrable history where one group was aggrieved over another group,” added Morris. He said that is not the case in this situation.
“If there’s been under representation of one group then you may factor in race as one of the deciding factors,” said Morris.
The public tussle over who — Joan Campbell-Douglas or Audrey Cartright – becomes the next deputy clerk has poisoned the atmosphere in her office, said Williams-Warren.
“This has divided my staff,” she said. “It just makes for a not very good atmosphere.”
Williams-Warren suggested it’s unfair in the manner in which two of her secretaries are being run through the political grinder.
“I really feel bad for my staff,” she said.
That feeling may lessen after Monday. The council is scheduled to decide which of the two women take the deputy clerk post. The timing of the meeting has been criticized by Morris, who said Tavarez intentionally scheduled the meeting on a day he teaches at William Paterson University, simply to shut out the opposition.
Tavarez said he was not aware of the councilman’s schedule. Morris said he has been teaching Monday evenings for the past 20 years and every council member knows that. Tavarez added a majority of council members said Monday was a good meeting date. Morris stated that there was no poll by the clerk’s office and he was never asked if he could attend.
Morris backs Campbell-Douglas who has been in the office for 15 years; Tavarez and 6th Ward councilman Andre Sayegh back Cartright, who has been in the office for four years. Tavarez, who Morris said did not add a resolution to discuss Campbell-Douglas’s nomination, said Cartright has the necessary qualifications and experience to serve in the capacity if appointed despite her short tenure.
Williams-Warren, who has reigned in the office as a benevolent mother for more than two decades, recommended Campbell-Douglas, who is African-American, over Cartright, who is Hispanic. Despite the clerk’s recommendation, the council president did not order a resolution be created or her name be added to the council’s agenda, said Morris. Only after he intervened did Campbell-Douglas’ name get added to the agenda, said Morris.
Secretarial experience in private sector is not enough to become a municipal deputy clerk which has a unique set of challenges like advising on parliamentary procedures, said Morris. He said Campbell-Douglas has served as clerk when both Williams-Warren, who is retiring at the end of the month, and Sonia Gordon, current deputy clerk and soon to be city clerk, were away.
The controversy over the appointments, which Morris said were delayed for several weeks due to the council president’s unresponsiveness, have resulted in Tavarez and other council members being perceived as anti-black, said the council president. Tavarez said he has heard unverified rumors being spread by Morris that he and other council members do not want black people in city hall.
When asked whether he is spreading the vile rumor Morris said, “Absolutely not. That has to be the most preposterous thing to have crossed someone’s lips.”
Morris said he is defending Campbell-Douglas based on her merit. He said if she were Hispanic he would have just as strongly defended her based on her qualifications.
“Whomever the deputy clerk is it is my hopes that they have the necessary skill set to effectuate good government because that is a critical role,” said Morris.