Representative Donald Payne Jr. (D), is the United States Congressman for the 10th district in the state of New Jersey. After the 2010 census, congressional districts were re-evaluated and redistricting resulted in Roselle Park no longer being represented by Congressman Leonard Lance and , as a result, Congressman Donald Payne, Jr. became the borough’s new United States Representative.
Earlier this year, Roselle Park Mayor Joseph Accardi went to Washington to visit with the Congressman’s office and the mayor discussed having the Congressman consider a satellite office in the borough. Following those discussions, the municipality received a request from Congressman Payne’s staff to use the Mayor’s Office once or twice a week to provide outreach services to residents. Members of congress routinely have satellite offices throughout the district they represent to have their staff or themselves be available to constituents separate from their main office headquarters in Washington D.C. and the state they represent. Mayor Accardi announced the proposal during a March Mayor & Council meeting and had offered a $0 lease for the first year. After a few closed sessions, Mayor Accardi stated that the offer to have a zero dollar lease was rescinded. Although no official public vote was taken on the matter, council members spoke on the matter after the closed session was legally resolved which offered insight to why no consensus was reached.
Councilman-At-Large Carl Hokanson and 2nd Ward Councilwoman Charlene Storey both were in agreement with Mayor Accardi’s proposal to have the Congressman establish a satellite office with a $0 lease; they were in the minority.
3rd Ward Councilwoman Tanya Torres’ major objection to the matter was not with the Congressman but with the protocol of the governing body not being included in the discussion process of the proposal in January and only being made aware of the matter via the public announcement made by Mayor Accardi during the open session of the March meeting. She stated, “Had it been discussed with council prior and had we seen the agreement prior to it being announced at the meeting, we could have avoided the issues that came up and it never would have gotten to where the mayor would have had to rescind the offer to the Congressman.”
5th Ward Councilman Michael Yakubov stated, “[In] my opinion, after really thinking about it – and I indicated this to other members of council – that if [Congressman Donald Payne] wishes to use Borough Hall as a place to meet residents, he can do so but I don’t think it should be for free. I think there should be a fee amount that he would pay per use just like when people rent out the Casano Center, there’s a fee. Roselle Park is not a charity organization, [and] I don’t want to give away free space to anybody: non-profit, for profit. He’s more than welcome to use the facility, if council chooses, to but I’d like to see some exchange of rent money.”
In comparison, Congressman Leonard Lance – whose previously represented Roselle Park – in 2013 became the Representative for the town of Mine Hill as a result of the previously mentioned redistricting, and he set up a satellite office in the town’s municipal building which would allow the Congressman and his staff use of not only the mayor’s office, but council chambers as well as other municipal offices twice a week from 9a.m. to 5 p.m. This was done for a $0 dollar lease. According to an article on NJ.com (link), Mine Hill Mayor Sam Morris stated that having Congressman Lance and his staff use the borough building for free would help improve Mine Hill’s visibility.
He is not the only congressman this year to have such arrangements in New Jersey. Congressman Pascarell was given a $0 dollar lease for his satellite office in Englewood.
When asked to confirm if the amount he requested for the use of the mayor’s office was $2,000 a month – which was stated by numerous people – Councilman Yakubov responded, “No, what I had recommended was the only other location that we rent out our facilities in town is the Casano Center at a rate fo $250 for five (5) hours. So, I recommended that the Congressman can make the determination as to how many hours, but we should keep them at the same rate.”
Calculating Councilman Yakubov’s proposed rate, use of the Mayor’s Office for 8-10 hours once-a-week which translates to four times a month comes out to $2,000 every month or $24,000 a year. To use another comparison, the use of the Casano Community Center by Pluchino Self Defense, a for-profit business which instructs students in martial arts and is taught by Zoning Officer Carl Pluchino, is $200 a month for use twice a week at a total of six hours per week – not including set-up time. The Mayor’s Office, including the waiting room, is – at most – 200 sq. ft while the Casano Center is a little under 15,000 sq. ft. The breakdown for Pluchino Self Defense is $8.33/hour while the proposed rate by Councilman Yakubov for Congressman Payne would be $62.50/hour.
Although he was not the only council member to ask for some sort of payment, his amount was by far the highest. 1st Ward Councilman Andrew Casais, who was not at the last municipal meeting where the offer was rescinded, had previously asked for $100 a month which would come out to less in a year than the monthly rate proposed by Councilman Yakubov. Mr. Yakubov stated that $100 a month was too low but he would consider $200 a month. When asked if he would vote ‘yes’ if the vote came up for that amount, Councilman Yakubov stated, “I would consider it. That’s my answer.”
4th Ward Councilman Modesto Miranda, although objecting to a zero dollar lease, stated that for that amount of money the Congressman could rent out space downtown for less than that to meet with constituents. The major issue with that is that rent, utilities, and any other associated expenses, would be paid by taxpayers. So, instead of having $0 or even $100 paid by constituents in these times of budgetary constraints, the proposals from both Councilman Yakubov and Miranda would increase the tax burden at least by 2,000%.
“We’re sorry that it fell through and, of course, the Congressman was really eager to have an office in Roselle Park because that’s a new part of his district and he wanted to get to know his constituents and really hear what they had to say and make it convenient for them,” stated staff member Tiffany Haas when reached for comment, “He is still looking other offices in Roselle Park and the area to just have a presence there and to get to know the residents, their issues, and what they’d like to see from him.”
An additional plus that would have come with the Congressman having a satellite office in Roselle Park is that Congressman Payne is on the Committee for Small Businesses. Being in such a small borough with a majority of small businesses would have possibly assisted the Congressman in his work with that committee since he could see, firsthand, the modern issues facing small businesses.
Mayor Accardi stated that in coordination with the Congressman, they are still looking for other options to have Congressman Payne have a satellite office in Roselle Park.