Mayor overhauls Redevelopment Agency

Call it the Labor Day Massacre: In a span of 24 hours, Interim Mayor Samson Steinman almost completely overhauled the Redevelopment Agency.

Four of the Redevelopment Agency’s seven commissioners resigned, with their replacements approved Tuesday night, followed Wednesday night by the resignation of Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier (Resolution 41-14). No reasons or explanations have been given yet for the mass resignation or Pelissier’s departure. Pelissier did not return an email message on Thursday seeking comment. Steinman could not be reached for comment by presstime.

Resigning were longtime commissioners William Rack (whose term ran through 2015) and Anthony Diege (2017) along with newcomers Daniel Garay (2015) and Vannie Parson, (2014) who were just appointed late last year. That leaves only Tim Nash and Paul Sefranka, who were reappointed last year to terms running through 2018, and Michael Staryak, appointed in 2012 to a seat that runs through 2016, as the lone holdovers. Commissioners are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by City Council to four-year terms. They are unpaid positions.

Garay and Parson only were just appointed in December. Parson apparently had a scheduling conflict with agency meetings, missing most this year’s meetings. Rack is a more curious resignation since he was chairman, was one of the original commissioners appointed 15 years ago, and seemed to back Pelissier for the most part and support the mayor. He did not respond to an email message Thursday seeking comment.

Sept. 8, 10 p.m. UPDATE: In a brief telephone interview Monday night, Rack said he resigned rather than be a part of any vote to oust Pelissier. Rack said that a week before the September Redevelopment Agency meeting, the mayor offered him the choice of staying on as commissioner and supporting the resignation of Pelissier or resigning.

City Council approved Steinman’s appointment of four new commissioners by resolution (AR-180-14) during a brief special meeting Tuesday night, just before the regularly scheduled pre-conference meeting: longtime Zoning Board member Egon Behrmann of Brookside Road (2015), 1st Ward Councilman Rodney Farrar of Park Street (2014), Union County Performing Arts Center Board of Trustees President Sondra Fishinger of West Inman Avenue (2015) and Parking Authority Chairman Armando Sanchez of City Hall Plaza (2017), who is director of the county’s golf operations. Fishinger also serves on the Parking Authority.

City Council also approved the appointment of Garay to Behgrmann’s seat on the Zoning Board, a term that runs through 2016 (AR-181-14).

Parking Authority Executive Director Leonard Bier is expected to be appointed the new redevelopment director during the October meeting of the Redevelopment Agency. The agency also approved a resolution for Pelissier’s consulting firm, Northeast Redevelopment Consultants, to serve in a transition period through Sept. 30, when Pelissier’s resignation takes effect. He will receive a severance payment equaling four months’ salary in lieu of getting 120 days’ notice of being relieved of his duties, according to the resolution.

Steinman, a Democrat, was appointed mayor last year after the resignation of Rick Proctor. He seeks a full, four-year term this November against Republican Patrick Cassio and Independent Renee Thrash, who ran in the 2012 Democratic mayoral primary.

The guess here — and that’s all it is — is that Steinman, who’s seeking election to a full, four-year term this fall after being appointed interim mayor a year ago, is aiming to put his own stamp on redevelopment but perhaps didn’t want to have any potential baggage for the election year. And by baggage, I mean explaining Pelissier’s pension issues dating from the Kennedy administration, the fact that he’s a resident of Montana, flying in for monthly Redevelopment Agency meetings, or his departure and settlement as city administrator during the previous administration. But that leaves the question of why such changes weren’t made sooner — not just months before the general election — as now it’s certain to come up in the campaign. We exchanged voicemail messages Friday night.

The mass resignations appear unrelated to an inquiry by the State Comptroller’s Office (OSC) earlier this year.¬† A call to that office on Friday yielded no new information on the inquiry.

16 thoughts on “Mayor overhauls Redevelopment Agency”

  1. Steinman appears intent on cleaning house in City Hall plus the agencies, boards & commissions that make up the financial power center used to reward allies and punish opponents. He is clearly confident that he will win the full term and I will not be shocked if he replaces many current city workers and brings in his own people in January. Except for Steinman’s two personal selections, Farrar & Cox, I would expect to see new city council candidates on the organization line in 2016,

    1. Every new mayor gets a new broom. As long as Mayor Steinman moves in the direction of making Rahway a better place to live, raise a family and earn a living he will have my support.

  2. Alex,
    I think that remains to be seen. Nothing wrong with making changes, especially when you have a lot of the same people in place for a long time. And Tom makes a good point, it’s the mayor’s prerogative to make changes, they’re his appointments – with approval from City Council. Tom also makes a good point in that the mayor will have support if this moves the city in the ‘right direction.’

    What’s more curious is the timing. I can understand not wanting to make waves when he took over the office almost a year ago, and even not taking away from the spotlight of his initial State of the City remarks early in the year (two commissioners who left were his own appointments in December). But now two months before an election? Maybe it was some sort of revelation this summer. As far as I know, there was nothing brewing as recently as the July Redevelopment Agency meeting and then a week before Labor Day, all of this comes down.

    We’ll see.

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