The new memorandum of understanding — conditions the city must agree to in order to receive $25 million in state aid — issued by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) calls on the city to adopt an anti-nepotism policy and get municipal agencies to conduct ethics training.
The 15-page document mentions a list of items the city ought to implement. Among the new conditions, the state wants the city to enter into memorandums with the various local boards, agencies, and authorities to conduct ethics training and to ensure the local agencies abide by the city’s pay-to-play ordinance, local public contract laws, and adhere to state and local affirmative action regulations, according to the document.
Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, said to ensure compliance with various laws is the function of each agency’s governing board. “It’s asking us to ensure they do certain things — we can’t ensure that they have their own governing boards,” said Morris. “I don’t see how we can agree to that.”
Emike Omogbai, spokesperson for the DCA, said the division is aware these agencies have their own governing boards. “However, the municipalities often have significant influence over the membership and activities of these organizations,” she said. “Therefore it is important to take all the necessary steps that will ensure proper governmental policies are being followed in municipalities receiving Transitional Aid.”
The new MOU also calls on the city to put in place an anti-nepotism policy. “Family member/relatives of municipal officials and employees may be eligible for employment with the municipality only if the individuals involved do not work in a director supervisory relationship, or in job positions in which a conflict of interest could arise,” reads the MOU. It calls for clear definition of “family member/relatives.”
City health director Donna Nelson-Ivy last year was under scrutiny for hiring her sister-in-law in violation of the city’s anti-nepotism policy. The city currently has in place a policy that includes in-laws under “family member/relatives.”
City officials, including mayor Jose “Joey” Torres, at the time said Nelson-Ivy’s husband died some 20 years ago to explain away the violation. A third new condition the document includes has to do with public contracting, the MOU requires the city to provide companies wishing to do business with the city to disclose “any prior or pending ethics complaints against them or their company.”
Council members were expected to ratify the laundry list of conditions on Tuesday evening, but many saw MOU for the first time. “I think we should have some time to go over it,” said William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman.
Business administrator Nellie Pou said the MOU was sent to the city about a month ago. She said council members were emailed copies of it long prior to the meeting. However, some council members said they were unable to open the digital documents; others said, the item was not included in their “home package,” a folder containing legislations delivered to council members.
McKoy said he was concerned the city may not be able to get the parade or event fee ordinance passed before July 1st, 2015 as is called for in the MOU.
Law director Domenick Stampone said that condition – shifting overtime costs incurred by city to organizers of the parades — has been included in MOUs going back several years. In fact, last year’s MOU makes mention of the same parade fee ordinance.
Council members delayed the ratification of the MOU until the next regular session.