Thursday night’s Mayor & Council meeting had the governing body conclude the hiring of a permanent Department of Public Works (DPW) Superintendent by hiring current superintendent Mark Pasquali. The original amount of $85,000 proposed at the last municipal meeting was reduced to equal the amount being paid to Neglia Engineering, the firm the Mr. Pasquali represented, of $80,000. Mr. Pasquali will have benefits and pension added to his salary.
The discussion was not without emotionally charged discussion which was started by Fifth Ward Councilman Michael Yakubov, who will be stepping down after the March 5th meeting.
“I know we can’t mention names,” Councilman Yakubov stated, referring to not being able to mention Rich Graves, the municipality’s current Assistant DPW Superintendent who was not offered the job of Superintendent, “Can some of those things in closed session come out at this point?”
He was told by Borough Attorney Richard Huxford that he could not name a position if that could identify the person. Councilman Yakubov then recounted how in the past, the municipality held interviews for the DPW Superintendent, as council currently did for a Deputy Code Enforcement Officer, and went through a formal process. The Fifth Ward Councilman was referring to Vince Cahill, the former Roselle Park DPW Superintendent who did not have his contract renewed in 2012. The councilman continued by saying that he had nothing personally against Mr. Pasquali but, as referring to his superintendent duties, remarked, “In that role he was guided with charging the department, making sure that the Department of Public Works acts efficiently and effectively and it’s one of the cautions that I have.”
Adding to his criticism, Councilman Yakubov spoke on the salary amount, a stipend for clothes when union regulations prohibit a manager from doing labor work, and that there were potentially other candidates who might come in at a lower salary who were just as qualified. In once again referring to Rich Graves without naming him, Councilman Yakubov added, “The word that was spoken about today and in the past is the word ‘Parker’ and I have no issue with going outside of town and bringing somebody in . . . but when somebody has paid their dues, who ever that may be, and work through the efforts to accomplish certain goals at the guidance of the municipality and then they’re taken out of consideration, I find it to be really discouraging. Personally, I think it’s a mistake. I’ll be voting no for many reasons. I’ve spoken to countless residents in the community who have indicated to me they’re very sad with this particular decision in the way it’s being done; the way it’s being implemented without much explanation to the reason for it.”
Third Ward Councilman Ryan Kelly followed by stating he would also be voting no, giving his reason, “I just don’t feel fundamentally the need to bring on an additional pension on to the budget.”
Mayor Carl Hokanson then spoke on the matter, “Yes, there were some decisions made a few years ago. Yes, there were some things that were done, [but] as you know [with] time, things do change.
“Perhaps when you ask people to get things done for you on the side and they do it, perhaps they get kickbacks”- Councilman Michael Yakubov
Mayor Hokanson conceded that the original amount of $85,000 was renegotiated to $80,000.
“The borough just saved $6,170.61,” the mayor added, without addressing the $24,000 that would be saved if the municipality continued using an outside contractor, not necessarily Neglia Engineering. Speaking in reference to Mr. Pasquali, Mayor Hokanson commented, “This gentleman knows the system, knows everything about it.”
It was then that Councilman Yakubov responded with, “I appreciate the clerk giving you cliff notes.”
Mayor Hokanson retorted, “I did my own research, more than you’ve done. But that’s all right.”
“I think I have a right to express myself,” stated Councilman Yakubov.
“Go ahead,” answered the mayor.
The Fifth Ward Councilman added to the mayor’s synopsis by stating that council at that time, which included the current mayor, as a whole agreed to hire Mr. Cahill and that, at that time, the search was opened up to those in-house as well as outside. He commented, “I’m just really expressing that I believe this was the wrong approach.”
“One thing you didn’t mention,” Councilman Yakubov continued, “Is a lot of the turnover and things that have happened, the morale. Not one thing was mentioned to me why Mr. Pasquali is going to be given this position or why somebody may not have been eligible to get this position. I don’t know if it’s a state regulation that somebody has to be hired and paid for by the municipality as opposed to being contracted as it has been for the past two years. I think there’s a lot of questions to be asked.”
Concluding his remarks, Councilman Yakubov said about the decision by the majority of council to appoint Mr. Pasquali, “I’m not surprised. Perhaps when you ask people to get things done for you on the side and they do it, perhaps they get kickbacks but I was only alluding to that.”
Mayor Hokanson immediately addressed the accusation, “You’re accusing me of kickbacks?”
The councilman reiterated that he used the word ‘perhaps’ in his statement.
Councilwoman-At-Large Charlene Storey added to the back-and-forth by stating, “Well for myself as a resident . . . I am perfectly satisfied with this arrangement. I think it is the best for Roselle Park [and] I will say unequivocally, I have never seen a kickback given to anyone of any Party and there’s never been any sort of accusation of that and I think it’s just revolting.”
Very calmly, First Ward Councilman Eugene Meola remarked, “Mr. Yakubov I respect you as a councilman and as a human being. Up till now I would have never thought you would have ever said anything like this. I figured you were above it. Saying things like ‘cliff notes’, it’s beneath you. If the mayor would have said it to you I would have defended you. I wish you luck in whatever you do but this is not something that I expected. I’m disappointed.”
Councilman Yakubov responded, “I apologize for my frustration, I just think this is wrong. The way this is being done is wrong. The process that’s being followed is wrong. There’s no rhyme or reason.”
The councilman made the statement without referring to instances where council, and his Party in particular, in previous years did not follow proper procedure as with the appointing of Scott Nicol to the option of Second Ward Councilman and he did not speak up against such actions.
“We’ve all worked very hard to get this accomplished,” Councilman Meola concluded, “We’ve all done [the work]. If there was something that could have been done, we would have done it.”
With that, the vote was taken and Mr. Pasquali was voted in as the DPW Superintendent by a 4-2 vote, down political party lines with Councilmen Kelly and Yakubov voting in the negative.
After the meeting, council members who voted to approve Mr. Pasquali were asked why they decided to spend more taxpayer dollars by hiring Mr. Pasquali as a private employee in place of continuing to hiring him as an agent for Neglia Engineering.
First Ward Councilman Eugene Meola responded “Well, we’re paying him a little less than we’re paying Neglia Engineering at $83,000.”
He was reminded that the last resolution to publicly address Neglia Engineering’s pay as DPW Superintendent was set at $80,000 and that no change orders were presented to reflect a $3,000 increase. An OPRA request to the Borough Clerk’s office confirmed that. The First ward Councilman stated that the $83,000 was the amount he was told, adding, “In a perfect world, we could have done things different.”
“How long were we going to keep using Neglia?”, asked Second Ward Councilman Joseph Petrosky without addressing if the decision was due to a dissatisfaction with Neglia – and, in turn, Mr. Pasquali – or if he thought paying Mr. Pasquali more was the better decision.
Councilwoman-At-Large Charlene Storey responded by stating after the meeting, “Because I feel it superior to have our own employee in that position.”
In asking Fourth Ward Councilman Mohamed ‘Gino’ Elmarassy, he simply responded, “Same thing.”
In following up with her statement, the Councilwoman-At-Large was asked why Mr. Pasquali was chosen over any other employee who had more time, experience, and familiarity with public works of the borough. Her response to that question was, “Essentially you are saying that the person with the most seniority should run each department in the borough, and, by extension, I suppose, every company in the country. Although certainly experience counts for a lot, it isn’t the only thing that is or should be looked at in any hiring situation.”
She did not address a second question asking what qualifications did Mr. Pasquali have that garnered him the position if the Borough was separating from the firm he worked for.