A local group is taking aim at the mayor and members of his administration and allied council members who hold jobs with both Jersey City and Hudson County, a practice commonly known as “double dipping.”
“It wasn’t too long ago when then-councilman Steven Fulop led the charge in Jersey City against the practice of double dipping. This effort to end the hated practice of leeching off the government teat helped catapult Fulop to local stardom and ultimately, mayor,” wrote Esther Wintner, president of the government watchdog group CivicJC.
In 2008, Fulop with the assistance of Civic JC led an ultimately unsuccessful referendum drive to ban double dipping.
“Fulop’s failed attempt to get an initiative on the ballot which would have barred city council members from accepting more than one taxpayer-funded salary was thought to be an indication of what a government under Fulop would look like,” wrote CivicJC.
According to the group, two members of Mayor Fulop’s administration, one council member, and five council staff members receive salaries from both Jersey City and Hudson County.
CivicJC called out Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley who, according to the group “receives a salary of $85,000 from Jersey City and also appears on the county payroll as a ‘confidential assistant’ with the county register at a salary of $62,000 for a total of $147,000.”
When the group asked the county to provide a job description for “confidential assistant,” the county responded, “New Jersey Civil Services does not have job descriptions for the titles ‘confidential assistant’ or ‘confidential aide.'”
The group pointed out that Ridley has twice voted to raise the pay for city council members, most recently by 29 percent.
According to CivicJC, in addition to his $190,000 salary from the city, Business Administrator John Metro receives Hudson County salaries of $8,783 as secretary to the insurance fund and $7,450 as an aide to the Board of Commissioners.
In 2010, then-councilman Fulop demanded the removal of former business administrator Jack Kelly for holding a part-time weekend job with another municipality saying, “I need not remind anyone of the difficult financial situation the city is currently experiencing, and the role of business administrator for Jersey City is not a part time job.”
CivicJC cited mayoral aide and chief of staff John Minella, who receives a city salary of $175,000 and two salaries from the county for work as a member of the Board of Elections and as an aide to the county commissioners. The county jobs bring his total take to $204,914.
According to Civic JC, several aides to City Council members are also deriving income from the city and county. Brittani Bunney, an aide to Ward D Councilman Yusef Saleh, collects a county salary as an analyst trainee of $76,875 while receiving a city salary of $35,000.
An aide to At-large Councilman Rivera has an $80,000 salary from the county and a $30,000 salary from Jersey City, said the group.
Civic JC noted that an aide to Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey appears on both the county and Jersey City payrolls and that Prinz-Arey had also listed her spouse on her financial disclosure form as receiving income from Hudson County.
Prinz-Arey told the Jersey City Times that her part-time aide “does some part-time work with one of the commissioners. He is paid an annual salary of about $1,500.” Her husband, she said, “does temporary work” for the Hudson County Board of Elections. “Technically, he is not a county employee but is paid by the county for temp work. That is why it was listed on my financial disclosure statement.”
Councilwoman Amy DeGise employs two aides who, according to CivicJC, hold positions at the county with salaries of $117,000 and $66,000, respectively, in addition to their city salaries of $22,500.
The group called upon County Executive Tom DeGise to be transparent with the public as to “why he allows this and disclose how these jobs were advertised.” A spokesman for DeGise had no comment.
Four council members — At-large Councilwoman Joyce Watterman, Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano, Ward E Councilman James Solomon, and Ward F Councilman Frank Gilmore — were not cited by Civic JC as double dipping.
City spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione told the Jersey Journal that the mayor “does not have the ‘legal authority’ to restrict people from holding multiple public jobs.”
She noted that Solomon taught at New Jersey City University and now teaches part time at Hudson County Community College. “If you aren’t playing politics, then you should highlight every council person in a fair and balanced way,” Wallace-Scalcione told the Journal.
In a text to the Jersey City Times, Solomon responded, “It’s true: In 2022, I made $2,500 as an adjunct professor teaching environmental public policy at Hudson County Community College. If the mayor’s spokesperson believes teaching at our local universities is the equivalent to multiple members of the administration and council ‘earning’ tens of thousands of dollars in county jobs, I am happy to add a course in local government ethics to my teaching load next year for her and the entire Fulop administration.”
Wallace-Scalcione, Ridley, Saleh, Rivera and Amy DeGise did not respond to JCT’s emails requesting comment.
The phenomenon of double dipping isn’t limited to Jersey City, according to CivicJC. State Senator Nick Sacco, who recently endorsed Fulop for governor, “held the position of mayor, state senator, and school administrator at the same time for a combined income of $323,550,” the group said.
As Ward E Councilman, Mayor Fulop worked closely with CivicJC on several occasions. On June 14, 2006, CivicJC presented for the first time a “Redeveloper Pay-to-Play Reform Ordinance” to the City Council. Fulop helped to bring about the ordinance’s enactment several years later. In 2008, CivicJC partnered with Fulop on the ultimately unsuccessful initiative to ban double-dipping.
After a period of inactivity, Wintner told the JCT that the organization just reconvened and will begin regular meetings.
“CivicJC believes the public deserves to hear from Mayor Fulop as to why he would betray them on his promise by continuing an ugly tradition of Hudson County politics and to stand by the principles he peddled,” said the group.
Editors note: This writer was a co-founder and member of CivicJC during some of the period discussed in this article.