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Old 02-12-2012, 11:18 AM   #1
J. Sharpe James, J.D.
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Default For Newark City Council, a fat budget in lean times

For Newark City Council, a fat budget in lean times

Published: Sunday, February 12, 2012, 10:00 AM

By David Giambusso/The Star-Ledger
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http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/201...cil_a_fat.html


NEWARK — Newark City Council members and their staffs paid $45,000 for BlackBerry charges last year.

Council members spent $20,000 on gas for their city-issued cars.

And, while extolling economic austerity and shared sacrifice, they put aside $25,000 in the budget for "animal and horticultural materials," meaning flowers, city budget documents show.

Newark may be in the midst of an economic meltdown, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at the council budget.

Despite governing one of New Jersey’s poorest cities, despite years of state bailouts and despite a harrowing economic downturn that resulted in the elimination of 1,100 city jobs, a Star-Ledger analysis of city budgets shows that the Newark council remains by far the most well-appointed governing body in the state.

With a yearly income of $85,000, Newark council members make close to three times what their Jersey City counterparts make and 73 percent more than state senators and Assembly members. All of them are technically part-time jobs.

In 2011, the city council spent $3.45 million on salaries and wages alone — six times more than Jersey City, which has roughly the same population.

"That’s pretty astounding," said James Hughes, dean of Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. "Jersey City has actually more municipal resources than Newark does."

Moreover, Newark council members have emerged from a recession that has ravaged the finances of their constituents without laying off a single employee or shedding a dollar in their annual salaries.

"I have worked tirelessly to instill fiscal discipline in my office and among the city’s administrative departments," Mayor Cory Booker said in a statement. "Now it’s time for the clerk and council to also sacrifice and share in the challenge of meeting our city’s budget realities."

RELATED COVERAGE:

• Newark's budget woes, MUA failure cause swift deterioration of relationship between Booker, council

• After selling buildings to close budget gap, Newark now faces $125M bill from bondholders

• Newark council rejects Mayor Cory Booker's proposed budget

• Introduction of Newark's 2011 budget is postponed

• Cautious optimism in Newark as Cory Booker prepares to submit budget



The council has trimmed costs significantly, shaving close to $800,000 in expenses since their peak in 2008, but it is spending roughly the same on salaries and staff as it was in 2006.

In fact, as Newarkers grappled with a stubborn 15 percent unemployment rate throughout 2011, council members gave themselves a 5 percent raise last year, according to city budget documents.

West Ward Councilman Ron Rice said that because Newark’s problems are more replete, he and his colleagues have to spend more time on task.

"I believe our salaries are high for a part-time position and that is why I serve in my council position as a full-time council member," Rice said. "I suspect our Jersey City counterparts serve in a part-time capacity, as I know legislators do as well."

But Rice is somewhat unusual in that regard. Council President Donald Payne is also a county freeholder. Councilman Ras Baraka is the principal of Central High School. Councilmen Anibal Ramos and Carlos Gonzalez both work for the county.

Still, Rice says he and his staff are called on to act as social workers as much as legislators.

"My staff members do and are asked to do more than any councilman or staff is asked to do anywhere in the state," he said. "In a city where 30 percent of our population lives below the poverty level or the administration is nonresponsive, average citizens come to us … for help and relief."

File photoAugusto Amador, East Ward Councilman

East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador said cuts to the council budget are long overdue.

"I’ve been saying this for the last six years," said Amador, a fiscal hawk who has railed against council spending for years. Citing overblown expenses and steep tax increases, Amador has routinely voted against the city budget. He did vote for last year’s budget, saying he felt it was necessary to stave off a possible state takeover.

"A lot of us have to answer for ourselves," he said.

But if Amador is frustrated, Booker’s administration is livid.

"We did some very unpopular things," said the mayor’s chief of staff, Modia Butler. In 2010, Booker cut more than 800 employees, including 163 police officers. When the council tabled his plan to create a water authority, the city raised property taxes by 16 percent and sold 16 city buildings.

This year, the Booker administration is asking the council and clerk’s office, which actually added staff members last year, to cut $4 million from their combined $11.3 million budget.

"Now we’re looking at the council and saying there has to be shared sacrifice," Butler said. "What do you want to do? What sacrifices have you made?"
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Old 02-12-2012, 11:58 AM   #2
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It's time to face the music council.....it's over...cory and company are now fighting back and turning the tables, its called beating you with your own stick!! Those that have two and three jobs don't spend enough time on the council job and that is a crime to the tax payers in this town.....their responsibility is to the taxpayers . Where is Frank Hurtz when we need his voice most.....it's a crime. How can their salaries be cut??
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Old 02-12-2012, 01:16 PM   #3
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Default When you don't want to be investigated, you.........

When you don;t want to be investigated, what do you do?

David Giambusso should be ashamed of himself for writing this as a front page story. Iexpect more from him, than to just act as a political shill for the Booker Administration. The Municipal budget has been an ongoing issue for years. Some things probably could be cut back, but the shape that this city now finds itself, is bigger than the Municipal Council.The council now serves as an extension of social service agencies, because of a severe lack of resources, an ineffective 4311 hotline, lack of employees, etc. Due to Bookers ineffectiveness as a manager, Newark is a disorganized town in search of a true leader with "real" vision, and not a political grandstander who is in City hall 1-2 a month for photo ops. The only reason that Booker and his cronies are speaking about the municipal councils budget, is that they are trying to intimidate the council into not investigating their personal money pit, the Newark Watershed. They are afraid of the moneytrail that leads to Richard Trenk, Elnardo Webster, Oscar James, and all of the other thieves who perpetuate their theivery through those recently designed offices. The Newark City Council is the busiest place in City Hall. If Giambusso ever took the time to check things out for himself, instead of taking talking points from Booker, he would see for himself. The City Clerk's office and the Municipal Council, are basically the only functioning body in City Hall. What does Booker's old law firm do for $800,000? City Hall has a Law Department already. On top of that, there are others law firms with their hands in the til. Booker does not want an investigation, so he goes after the council? I don't see Giambusso writing about the dirty streets, increaing crime, or how afraid the citizens are in this city. He takes his talking points from Booker, Modia Butler and the others, who all have no vested interest in improving the quality of life for "real Newarkers" Why doesn't Giambusso write about the Director of the Newark Health Department who has no credentials, yet is the administrator for our Public Health Department. Why don't we hear about that, as our kids are sick and dying everyday because of lack and misuse of funds and resources of that department? I suppose that those types of stories would be counter-productive to Booker's faux national persona. Again Giambusso, either you have integrity, or you don't. Tell the whole story. As long as the Council was in complete lock-step with Booker, there was no problem. Now that Booker and his cronies want to sell the water, they plant stories through Giambusso. The City Clerk's office basically serves as the Mayor, because all of Booker's complaints are directed to the City Council. His office has no accountablity, and Elnardo Webster and his "band-of-merry-thieves, want that water.
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Old 02-12-2012, 02:35 PM   #4
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What, the council shouldn't be a target as well? Let them all tear each other apart. Best thing that could ever happen to Newark.
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Old 02-12-2012, 03:46 PM   #5
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This year, the Booker administration is asking the council and clerk’s office, which actually added staff members last year, to cut $4 million from their combined $11.3 million budget.

Good! Despite their claim to have already cut back thousands, why would the Council still have to be told that a city selling its municipal buildings can't afford flower and candy stipends anymore (if it ever could)?

I guess they will have to learn to struggle by on less just like the people whose taxes they help raise.
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Old 02-12-2012, 06:26 PM   #6
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Default Wait! What about Valentine's Day parties??

I know of at least one senior center VD party that will be lavished with candy and gifts from Crump, Ramos, et al. You want to deprive seniors of their stale candy and cheap gifts? Shame, shame on you all!
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Old 02-12-2012, 08:21 PM   #7
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Quote:
"I have worked tirelessly to instill fiscal discipline in my office and among the city’s administrative departments," Mayor Cory Booker said in a statement. "Now it’s time for the clerk and council to also sacrifice and share in the challenge of meeting our city’s budget realities...

"We did some very unpopular things," said the mayor’s chief of staff, Modia Butler. In 2010, Booker cut more than 800 employees, including 163 police officers. When the council tabled his plan to create a water authority, the city raised property taxes by 16 percent and sold 16 city buildings.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what this is all about. The Booker administration fed the Ledger this hatchet piece. He didn't even fact check the Mayor's claim of "sacrifice". Do we know for sure that the Mayor's office is more lean the the Council's with all those secretaries and constituent services and Deputy Mayors? If he did, he would have recognized all of the provisional employees that are still working in City Hall, including his Deputy Chief of Staff who is paid more than $100K and doesn't even have a college degree. And he would highlight the cost of running Margarita Muniz's office, which is completely superfluous.

Shame on the Ledger for being a political tool. This is about distracting the public and refocusing the attention away from the MUA and onto others.
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Old 02-12-2012, 08:55 PM   #8
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But, at the end of the day, they are costing a lot of money. 20k on gas? The city is not even that big! 45k on Blackberries? That is over the top. Granted Booker should cut back too if he is going after their perks, but they are costing the city a ridiculous amount of money!
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Old 02-12-2012, 09:10 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by ForOurYouth View Post
The Booker administration fed the Ledger this hatchet piece. ... Do we know for sure that the Mayor's office is more lean the the Council's with all those secretaries and constituent services and Deputy Mayors? ... Shame on the Ledger for being a political tool. This is about distracting the public and refocusing the attention away from the MUA and onto others.
I don't doubt your point. Since some in the Administration (with the help of the council) were caught spending thousands to outfit an unauthorized MUA office why not toss the ball back at them? Still, two wrongs don't make a right.

The Council should bang back and focus on the mayor's hypocrisy. That's their job. Maybe the discussion will turn toward what's the best way to spend Newark's money.

Everybody needs to get honest here. It's time to stop building petty fiefs. Spend money wisely.
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Old 02-12-2012, 11:54 PM   #10
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As long as they were signing off on each others deals everybody was "hush hush". Now that the MUA is not going to happen Cory want to throw the council under the bus. Truth be told, I think the waste in the city is irreversable. The council, their staff should all pay their own cell bill as well as pay for their own gas and lunch. They should not be given vehicles for any reason. The police department, fire dept, council, and other department should sell those gas guzzlers and hire some Newarkers.

I love Ron's respose, he acknowledges that its a high salary for part time thats why he works full time...HUH?? Its a part time job RON period...How can you justify all the perks you guys receive? Its unbelievable. You all should be ashamed of themselves. And as far as your hard working staff. Please tell me is that not what they are paid to do. They are full time employees and are rewarded for their service. When you start looking for sympathy ask yourself, would they do the same job on a voluntary basis?,,,,ABSOLUTELY NOT....

Your getting paid so work...give some perks back and stop trying to stand out as if your an individual. You are ALL the same.....
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