On the same night that representatives passed a city budget that will bring an average $120 tax increase, City Council unanimously approved a new salary ordinance Monday night that more than triples the mayor’s annual pay.
More than a dozen citizens spoke during a nearly 40-minute public hearing before City Council members offered some comments. Four speakers supported the salary ordinance before about 10 citizens largely spoke against it. The hearing was spirited but didn’t get too raucous until about halfway through when, during council’s comments, there were enough disruptions to warrant two police officers to appear in Council Chambers and monitor the goings-on for a few minutes.
The governing body last month introduced an annual salary ordinance establishing management positions for 2015 (O-9-15). It was approved 8-0 on Monday night, with only 2nd Ward Councilman Michael Cox absent. The mayor’s salary would go from about $21,000 to $72,000 — the same level when previous Mayor Rick Proctor took office in January 2011 before City Council reduced the salary in December 2011 to about $21,000.
Mayor Samson Steinman was elected in November to a full four-year term after being appointed interim mayor in September 2013, after Proctor stepped down. He resigned a $45,000-a-year post as borough administrator in Bound Brook, where he was just appointed in January, to focus full-time on being mayor. The mayor’s position has historically been considered “part-time” but Steinman has said the Faulkner Act, which governs the city, does not specify the position as full-time or part-time. He was not present at Monday night’s meeting, to which some speakers took issue.
Most of those who spoke against the ordinance railed against ever-increasing taxes, questioning why a city with a population of less than 30,000 needs a full-time mayor, and one that would be paid more than most mayors in Union County, most of which are part-time. For others, the issue is that Steinman was among those who led the charge when he was a councilman to reduce the salary more than three years ago.
Ken Farrell of Falseky Street said he’s voted for Steinman before, knows him personally, and even was asked by him to support Proctor. But he called the ordinance “a slap in the face to taxpayers” and nothing more than a political power play. “To spring it upon us, after the election, and go along with it, it’s an embarrassment. I’m embarassed for you, for me and for Rahway,” he said.
Farrell pleaded for the governing body to “at least be reasonable” and double the salary to about $42,000 rather than triple it. That still would be a higher salary than the mayors of Plainfield, Union or Cranford.
Former 2nd Ward Councilman Robert Rachlin of Allen Street was on City Council when the governing body reduced the previous mayor’s salary and offered an explanation. At that time, Proctor succeeded James Kennedy, a “long-term mayor that gave Rahway credibility.” After Proctor took office in 2010, he brought a great deal of embarrassment to Rahway. “I don’t want a part-time mayor who’s more concerned about another job when he should be focused on us,” Rachlin said.
Larry Fishman of The Rail House on Irving Street, who also serves on the Rahway Arts District board, said the city needs a mayor who will dedicate the time necessary and have the tools to implement the best strategies, not only for public service but to be compensated as well. “Rahway needs a leader and Sam Steinman is that leader,” he said, adding that in his short time as mayor there’s been progress.
“If you vote yes, you’re telling us that our mayor should be paid more than any mayor in Union County, except Elizabeth,” said Patrick Cassio of Barnett Street, a Republican who lost to Steinman, a Democrat, in November’s election but said it’s not a matter of “sour grapes.
Cassio ventured to say that most people in attendance would not have an issue if the council tabled the measure and considered a smaller increase at its next meeting. But he speculated that because Steinman also is the city’s Democratic chairman that representatives who vote against the ordinance would fear being thrown off the ticket in the next election (six ward seats are up in 2016). He also questioned the $80,000 savings anticipated because of an assistant business administrator’s retirement when the city budget indicates a $100,000 increase in General Administration salaries.
City Administrator Cherron Rountree said part of the mayor’s salary is in the General Administration salaries and wages, along with another employee transferred in who will be a liaison for economic development, in addition to other duties, including zoning. The mayor will be picking up some responsibilities of the assistant business administrator post, she said. About $80,000 of the $100,000 increase in General Administration is related to expenses associated with terminal leave pay.
During council comments, 6th Ward Councilman Raymond Giacobbe, Jr., said he wasn’t on City Council when the salary was reduced and the ordinance is merely restoring it to a level where it was under Kennedy. “I saw the effects of what a part-time mayor had on the city,” he said. He later expressed hope that just as many people would come to future meetings when “important things are discussed in town,” not just the mayor’s salary.
Fifth Ward Councilwoman Jennifer Wenson-Maier said she understood the level of emotion from speakers. Having worked with Proctor for 20 years, she said she never anticipated the change in him and was horribly disappointed. She proclaimed that she would “stand by any decisions that cut that term short.” Most mayors are grossly underpaid, Wenson-Maier said, for a job that never ends, either lobbying in Trenton or out at meetings most nights.