Jersey City lawmakers at Thursday’s meeting took heat from residents on the killing of a mentally ill man in Bergen-Lafayette, put off discussing a proposed tax abatement for the much-heralded Bayfront development to a September 11 private session and held off awarding a private cleaning contract after a city union protested it would prompt layoffs of 13 city janitors.

Several residents slammed the governing body for failing to put into place a mental health response team in the wake of the August 27 fatal shooting of resident Andrew Washington, 52, at his Randolph Avenue home.

The police response, which has been defended by Mayor Steven Fulop and city public safety director James Shea, is being investigated by the state Attorney General’s Office. Relatives and friends of Washington have expressed outrage about the incident, saying that the victim had a history of behavioral issues that could possibly have been handled without violence. The city has said Washington was threatening officers with a knife at the time he was shot.

Edward Perkins, one of several residents who spoke during the public portion of the meeting, said he was “mad, angry” by the incident. “Andrew was murdered by the Jersey City Police Department,” he said. “This (governing) body voted for a crisis intervention unit but there’s no infrastructure set up for it.”

Ann Marie Navarro said in July 2021 she and three other Ward F residents joined forces to present a city task force with “the gold standard” of a program they’d researched designed to send police officers into the community with a social worker to defuse a potentially threatening situation involving someone of unstable behavior.

But the program never came to fruition, Navarro said, “and now our hearts are heavier with the loss of a person,” despite the fact, she added, that their research data based on how the program operated elsewhere, “showed chances of Andrew surviving” had those methods been applied in Jersey City.

Carol Harris, “a longtime Ward F resident and lifelong friend of the Washington family,” said she always worried that her father, who was “institutionalized for dementia,” could be “shot dead” by police if he ever acted out.

If the council is unable to provide reassurance to the community that it can provide better service to those afflicted with mental and/or behavioral issues, “then maybe we need to find others who will,” she said.

Bill Lillis, a member of the advocacy group Jersey City Together and a worshipper at Our Lady of Sorrows Church, urged the council to make the mental health response unit “a top priority” and Colin DeVries called Washington’s death an “extra-judicial killing by a heavily-armed SWAT team – reflecting a police policy of “creating fear and intimidation” among the community.

Council members offered no response.

On the labor front, the council agreed to defer action – for now at least – on a proposed $1.4 million contract with T.U.C.S. Cleaning Service Inc., of Orange, for janitorial services at 22 municipal facilities after Elena Lavarreda, deputy political director of Service Employees International Union, Local 32BJ, told them that based on the contract work schedule, with four fewer buildings to be cleaned, 13 of the city’s 34 union janitors “will be fired.”

Kevin Brown, union executive vice president, said that T.U.C.S. honors the union contract. He said the city has given no notice to the union about impending layoffs but added that some level of job security is offered under the newly passed state legislation, known as the Service Worker Retention Law, which takes effect October 21.

On average, he said, the city’s union janitors earn an average of $37,800 a year and Lavarreda added that many are “immigrant workers.”

Several city lawmakers said the prediction of layoffs was news to them.  Ward E Councilmember James Solomon said: “We asked (administrative staff) if anyone would lose their jobs. The answer was a clear ‘no’.”

And Council President Joyce Watterman said she thought that while the amount of work hours might be cut, no one would lose their jobs.

As for Bayfront, the council voted to introduce an ordinance calling for a 30-year tax exemption for a mixed-use residential project and authorizing a financial agreement with Bayfront Partners 32 Urban Renewal L.P. but, at the same time, agreed to convene in closed session September 11 at 5 p.m. for further talks about the tax issue and “to discuss investment of public funds … and contractural negotiations … in relation to the proposed Bayfront Promenade/Bayfront Partners 32 Urban Renewal L.P. project within the Bayfront Redevelopment Plan Area.”

State law allows closed sessions when dealing with any matter “involving the purchase, lease or acquisition of real property with public funds ….”

The council also approved letters of support for two cannabis retail shops to be operated by Hamm & Chaz LLC at 747 West Side Ave. and by Legacy to Lifted LLC at 490 West Side Ave. but deferred action on an application by Bud Space LLC for 270 Newark Ave. pending submission of signed memoranda of agreement with nonprofits.

The council authorized the use of $11.37 million in excess bond proceeds for roadway improvements; City Hall upgrades, including a new fire suppression system, HVAC repairs, repointing and repairs to exterior walls; energy upgrades at City Hall, City Hall Annex, firehouses and police stations; new play equipment, safety surface and fencing at various parks; and new park spaces at Fairmount Park, Bergen Square, McGovern Park, 16th Street Park and Reservoir 3.

The council awarded a $1,955,250 contract to Adamo Brothers Construction, of Ridgefield, for long-awaited safety improvements to Leonard Gordon Park in the Heights. Adamo will do landscaping and concrete work, excavation for stairs, sidewalk, stormwater pipes and utilities, install new sidewalk, stairs, benches, lights and plant new trees and re-sod lawns.

Also, the council agreed to pay $925,000 for a lot at 117 Hutton St. to be used for parking at the planned new North District police station. Ward C Councilmember Richard Boggiano, who voted against it, opposes paying for a new facility because “the city doesn’t know to care for its property,” adding that the existing station on Central Avenue accommodates only half the personnel it started with, to which Ward D member Yousef Saleh responded, “It’s outgrown its use since it opened 100 years ago.”

Additionally, the council voted to contract with McCloskey Mechanical Contractors, of Blackwood, for $1,355,000 to install a new HVAC system at the planned Police Training Facility. And it approved the use of a $600,000 state Department of Environmental Protection grant to further electrify the fleet of JC Via vehicles.

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...