Heeding the calls of angry Jersey City 911 emergency dispatchers, the City Council has backed off—at least for now—from a city administration proposal to rehire Princeton-based IXP Corp. to complete “initial workshops, technology assessment and gap analysis” at a cost of $213,085.
At Thursday night’s meeting, the council voted to withdraw a resolution that would have authorized the firm to proceed with the work under a cooperative pricing agreement with Bergen County Co-Op and SHI International Corp., of Somerset.
This is not the first time the council thwarted the administration’s attempt to hire IXP. This past November, it rejected plans to hire the company to study the call center’s problems.
IXP runs the emergency dispatch system for Princeton, NJ, among other municipalities. In 2015 and 2018, the city hired the firm to evaluate the Public Safety Communications Center and possibly take it over.
A group of dispatchers who attended Thursday’s meeting told the council they feared the city would use IXP to justify privatizing a system they said was understaffed and underpaid.
Ankit Upadhyay, a 911 police dispatcher, said “all the (unit’s) equipment is working.” If the city is going to spend over $200,000, they should “hire more call takers.” Five years ago, he added, the city hired IXP “and not one change came from it.”
Amanda Blue, an acting 911 supervisor with 17 years on the job, told the council it can get an assessment of the city’s emergency call system from the state “for free,”an assertion later denied by city business administrator John Metro who said the state only generates reports on 911 “mergers, acquisitions, takeovers and consolidations.”
Blue also complained that employees in the unit are still waiting for back pay they are owed. “It’s been six pay cycles and we’re still not being paid correctly,” she said. Metro had said previously he’d assigned a 9-member task force to monitor the city’s payroll system, which is managed by an outside vendor and had broken down. Since then, he has said, the system has been largely restored.
Roseann Manto, a 24-year employee in the 911 unit, said the unit has had a tough time retaining operators due to the low pay the city offers. In the last few years, she said, the city “hired 88, and we’ve lost 82 of them.”
Residents who complain they can’t get through to the unit should realize “the average call last six minutes, and we average 1,100 calls per day,” Manto said.
Other workers talked about being passed over for raises and/or promotions and of being disciplined for complaining about the city’s alleged violation of union rules. To the latter concern, Metro said that any discipline meted out was because “the chain of command was violated.”
Acknowledging the employees’ fears of “a hostile takeover” by IXP, Metro insisted that if the city does hire the firm, the city hasn’t asked it to look at privatization as a possible outcome of its study. Only “staffing, technology and performance is under consideration,” he said.
As for the cost of the study, Metro said part of the vendor’s job will be to look at technology issues associated with relocating the 911 unit from its present quarters on Bishop Street to the Hub on Martin Luther King Drive.
Council President Joyce Watterman said: “I can see this is a hostile (work) environment, and I don’t know if we need an outside mediator. I hope nobody is here on their work time.”
Then, alluding to employees’ complaints about staffing and pay issues, Watterman added, “You guys play a crucial role in the city. I don’t know if games are being played.”
Councilmember-at-large Daniel Rivera suggested that instead of airing complaints about the city’s administration of the call center, the employees would do better to “demand a meeting” with city management to hash out all outstanding issues. “And I don’t see your union doing that.”
Ward B Councilmember Mira Prinz-Arey said, “Clearly, there’s mistrust on all sides, and we do need a mediator.” She asked Metro to ask the state about “the scope of services” it offers concerning analysis of 911. She also suggested the city “explore if another private firm (other than IXP) could be brought in.”
Metro agreed to look into those areas and report back to the council.
On Tuesday, The Jersey City Times reported that, in addition to its payroll problems, the Communications Center has been chronically understaffed and failed to conduct state-mandated training.
In other matters, after hearing pros and cons from various public speakers, the council voted for the introduction of two ordinances to designate a block-long section of St. Paul’s Avenue one-way west between Tonnele Avenue and Liberty Avenue and to install a southbound left-turn lane on Tonnele at Van Winkle Avenue, requiring the removal of four on-street parking spaces on the west side of Tonnele. Rivera opposed the one-way designation; Ward C Councilmember Richard Boggiano abstained.
A public hearing on the measures is scheduled for April 12.
Speaking for the one-way designation, Sumit Galhotra said the neighborhood is constantly dealing with “trucks (that) come barreling down (St. Paul’s)”— a threat to people crossing the block that contributed to the shutting down of a corner eatery. In 2011, a senior citizen was killed by a tow truck. In 2021 two neighbors were injured by speeding vehicles; and in 2022, a child was hit by a vehicle off Skillman Avenue, he recalled.
Adam Cohen said neighbors have “witnessed too many close calls” and have been waiting four years for the city to take corrective steps. He urged the council to approve both measures next month.
But Charles Stanton said making part of St. Paul’s one-way “is not going to solve the problem,” adding that city “hasn’t made a good case” in support of its new traffic plan. “Where’s the empirical data?” Moreover, he said, “There’s not a lot of truck traffic on St. Paul’s…. If you’re going to divert traffic, it’s going to go to Newark Avenue, which is already congested.”
Eric Ross agreed that the one-way proposal “is not the solution. All we’re doing is pushing the problem on other residents (in the neighborhood).”
But Emmanuelle Morgen said the city’s plan would help pare down “cut-through traffic from nearby highways, congestion and crowding….Without the traffic-calming measures (bump-outs and curb islands), I fear for my life….This ordinance is freedom from fear.”
The council heard a plea from Black Interest Team Enterprise, a coalition of community organizers operating a food pantry for needy families at Lincoln High School, to help keep the pantry alive. The pantry operates in conjunction with the Astor Place Community Garden.
Bishop Tinia Bland, president/CEO of BITE, said the group needs a letter of support from the city to help prevent the Board of Education from possibly evicting the pantry in the wake of neighbors’ complaints about loud noise. She said BITE operates currently on a “month-to-month” contract with school authorities. According to its website, BITE says the pantry feeds 750 families per week. Watterman said the council follow up on her request.
The council also voted to reappoint Ramy A. Eid chief judge of the Jersey City Municipal Court for a 3-year term and honored longtime city employees Orlando Diaz, Jerome Colwell, and Cliff Perkins on their retirements.