MILE SQUARE VIEW EXCLUSIVE
The first Hoboken controversy of 2019 is underway and Mayor Ravi Bhalla has some 'splaining to do.
The Mile Square City is paying not three but four mayoral aides into 2019 and two of the four are officially listed as communication managers. This came to light to the surprise of Hoboken residents and City Council members both at last week's council meeting.
Among the major questions, do we have a serious lack of transparency, a no-show job or both?
Bhalla only days ago vetoed a City Council ordinance passed last month limiting his office to two mayoral aides should any of three depart but last week it came to light there's a fourth on the books. At the same council meeting, a 5-4 vote fell one short of a required sixth to override.
It's unclear if a no-show job is at root or if any of this is going to change. Even with two communication managers on the mayor's office payroll, the answers are anything but transparent.
At last week's council meeting, Council President Jen Giattino followed up on an inquiry posed earlier that morning asking why the already announced as departed eight-months and out communications manager was appearing as paid and present on the payroll in 2019?
The former or is it current employee of the mayor's office and communications manager is Santiago Melli-Huber. His official announced departure of resignation was announced by the City for November 30th and then amended without explanation to December 14th.
To complicate matters further, the mayor of Trenton officially announced Melli-Huber was its full-time employee last month in December.
Whispers about the two communications managers appearing simultaneously on the mayor's office payroll into January conflict with a trial balloon floated to allow for the transfer of "passwords" and maintaining the City of Hoboken website
That cover story may already be crumbling before the public can be expected to swallow it whole.
City of Hoboken payroll records reveal the previously announced departing communications manager Melli-Huber was paid BOTH his regular bi-monthly pay AND 10 days of vacation pay on December 19, 2018.
Then, on January 2nd, the same mayor's office employee reappears on the City of Hoboken payroll for two more weeks in bi-monthly pay. Last week at the meeting, Corporation Counsel Brian Aloia reluctantly confirmed Santiago Huber-Melli was a current, 2019 employee of the mayor's office.
Further questions arise with Santiago Melli-Huber now declared an apparent simultaneous full-time employee of both the City of Trenton and City of Hoboken in 2019. How long was this duplicity intended to go on?
As of early December, Hoboken had four mayoral aides and not one, but two communication managers on the payroll at the same time. Vijay Chaudhuri returned to the mayor's office on December 5th overlapping with Melli-Huber in the same position.
Chaudhuri was the campaign manager for Ravi Bhalla in Hoboken's 2017 mayoral race and Chief of Staff for the previous mayor, Dawn Zimmer.
As many questions about the unsaid, unknown, and possibly suspect undocumented arrangement are outstanding, Council President Jen Giattino and the council awaits further answers. Answers that are not forthcoming to the public or the City Council under the new no. 1 (or is it no. 2) City of Hoboken communications manager.
Council President Jen Giattino last month noted the recent political operations emanating out of the Hoboken mayor's office. Not days into 2019, her simple payroll query sees another surfaced.
Talking Ed Note: Last year, a mere month into office, Ravi Bhalla broke his campaign promise to focus on Hoboken as his sole job announcing what has been described by some as a no-show second job with a Republican law firm. That second job pays him $60,000 in salary plus a rich commissions plan for rainmaking. Many view that second job as connected to NJ governmental contracts. Now it looks like another no-show job has appeared in the mayor's office.
Ravi Bhalla this past year blew out the mayoral aides numbers - but not in a good way. Compare his first year with four mayoral aides at a cost to taxpayers of approximately $300,000 versus one for former mayor Dawn Zimmer at $35,000. This doesn't even include the additional costs of a new constituent office.
The City Council failed to find a sixth vote to override a veto with an ordinance limiting Ravi Bhalla to two mayoral aides should one of the existing three depart. Now it's learned, Ravi Bhalla morphed it to four.
While Ravi Bhalla's council allies Jim Doyle, Emily Jabbour, and Michael Russo won't say a bad word about any of this; Councilwoman Vanessa Falco might be feeling jacked. She held to her vote of no on first reading of the ordinance to limit mayoral aides in the future and again in the failed override vote.
Related: The Jersey Journal weighed in on the brewing controversy Friday with this story.