Jersey City City Hall
Jersey City City Hall

Administration asserts attorney-client privilege in shielding pay equity report.

Days after the administration refused to disclose a gender pay equity report commissioned by the City Council, Council President Joyce Watterman put forth an ordinance proposing the creation of the city’s first Women’s Advisory Board to tackle equal pay, health benefits and child care.

The council was meeting in person rather than virtually for the first time since the pandemic alarm was sounded March 25, 2020. City Clerk Sean Gallagher said the council will continue to meet in person until further notice.

Watterman said the proposed Board would be “committed to advocating for women and addressing the critical issues and concerns that women within the city face.”

Watterman’s initiative came just three days after the administration denied a request by the Jersey City Times that it disclose the results of a report on the city’s record on gender pay equity.

The report, tasked to the law firm Apruzzese, McDermott, Mastro & Murphy, P.C., was commissioned by the council in 2019 at a cost of $100 thousand. The report was prompted by the Diane B. Allen Equity Act, which makes it unlawful for employers to pay employees a lesser rate of pay than other employees who perform “substantially similar work” unless the differential is based on legitimate business justification.

In October of this year, The Jersey City Times asked for the results of the law firm’s report under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).  On Monday, the city denied the request asserting that emails containing the report are covered by attorney-client privilege.

Asked by the Jersey City Times yesterday whether she had any hard data on any of the gender related issues of concern, Watterman responded that she wasn’t aware of any.

If Watterman’s measure is adopted Jan. 26, the volunteer board would have 11 members appointed by the mayor with council consent, including, if possible, a social worker and an attorney. The mayor and council president would serve as non-voting members.

All Members would be residents, a majority, women. Each would serve a two-year term; the board would meet at least 10 times per year.

The board would be expected to “recommend policy and guidelines as it pertains to the status of women and women’s rights,” but those recommendations would be “limited to planning and programmatic review and would not affect the [city’s] decisions concerning operation, budget or personnel,” according to the proposed ordinance.

Asked about the proposal, Watterman told the Jersey City Times she sees the board’s role as very important and timely “because with all the changes going on in the country, and women especially getting sidetracked, we need to address those issues.”

Watterman pointed to equal pay, health benefits and, in particular, child care as issues that the board would likely target. She said given that many local women serve as their family’s breadwinners, they often face the pressure of having to decide between job and childcare commitments. She noted that this conflict has intensified during the pandemic.

Watterman acknowledged that while the board’s role would be only advisory in nature, by making its recommendations public, pressure would be brought to bear on the city’s lawmakers to draft appropriate remedies.

If the ordinance is adopted later this month, Watterman said she hoped that the board could spring into action by mid-February or March once all slots are filled.

In other business, the council agreed to consider changes to the law that sets reporting requirements for the city’s Cannabis Control Board. These changes would:

  • expand the board’s membership from three to five, of whom three would be appointed by the mayor with council consent; one would be directly appointed by the mayor and one would be directly appointed by the council president.
  • direct the board to report quarterly to the council the number of license applicants and locations of approved facilities; the number of employees and “qualifying microbusiness identifiers”; the percentage of ownership of each owner, intermediary owner, LLC member, partner and public or non-public shareholder; proof of New Jersey residency; and each owner’s gender, race, and nationality or ethnic group.
  • Require any applicant whose license has been approved by the state to apply to the board for final approval, which appliction the board may take up to 60 days to review considering the applicant’s “community impact, outreach, input”; the number of cannabis businesses within 1,000 feet of the applicant; the applicant’s hiring practices; the residency of the applicant or owner; the applicant’s “commitment to diversity and inclusion best practices”; and the applicant’s safety and security plans.

These amendments are to be voted on by the council Jan. 26.

The council has yet to decide who will replace city Tax Collector Joanne Sisk when she retires March 31. A resolution proposing the appointment of Trisha Greco was withdrawn with no comment by the council. Greco, the current tax collector for Lacey Township, NJ, previously worked in the Jersey City tax office and had been recommended for the job by Sisk.

The council voted 8–1, with newly-elected Ward F Councilman Frank Gilmore dissenting, to pay Bespoke Health LLC of New York an “emergency contract award” of $3,750,000 for one year of service as part of the city’s ongoing response to the coronavirus epidemic. The vote came after Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh, Ward E Councilman James Solomon, and Councilman At-Large Daniel Rivera requested that representatives from Bespoke clarify the company’s billings to the city.

Solomon was the only negative vote on a resolution authorizing renewal of a one-year contract with Newesco, Inc. (trading as Nelson Westerberg of New Jersey) to provide moving services for the Department of Public Works/Administrative Services. Solomon offered no reason for his “no” vote. The resolution calls for the city to pay the firm $262,530.

Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano reported getting calls from constituents about a $12 charge on their water bills—a reference to what critics have labeled an unjust “garbage tax” passed along to consumers—which the city had pledged to end.  City Corporation Counsel Peter Baker responded that the disputed charge had  been assessed via the city Municipal Utilities Authority, and he pledged to “have the MUA director in a closed [council] session” to explain what happened. Baker said he believes the charge was intended as an adjustment to a new [water usage rate] formula to yield “an equitable calculation per unit.”