Thursday, January 2, 2020

Mayor's office: Deploy the Patronage Protection!

"Patronage Protection" action foreshadows Mayor Ravi Bhalla's upcoming tax increase and layoffs

As the new year slowly begins to unfold with Hoboken joining the flow, the City Council will recommence with its first meeting of the year tonight.

It promises to be a very challenging year.

The shakeout after last November's council ward elections is taking shape which saw Mayor Ravi Bhalla lose almost every single council seat he vied for across the Mile Square. More bad news is coming.

With no one paying attention at the close of 2019, the mayor's office announced the titles of Chief of Staff would be eliminated and see both its members: John Allen and Jason Freeman, dispersed with other duties and titles.

Banner year for layoffs and tax increases are reportedly on tap.

The moves appear to keep their six-figure salaries intact. John Allen has seen boosts since 2017, reportedly paying him $125,000 ballpark and in excess of the mayor's annual salary while Jason Freeman's combined salary with stipends is in the vicinity of $100,000.

The Hudson County View covered the shuffle with the mayor's office praising themselves as John Allen was officially renamed assistant corporation counsel and Jason Freeman to a newly created title, director for operations.

Only Vijay Chaudhuri, the former campaign manager for the controversial 2017 Bhalla for Mayor campaign remains in his current communications role. From the public perspective, he spends most of his time publicly attacking City Council members and others who don't submit to the will of his boss while failing to notify the public on major issues like the NJ Transit Redevelopment Plan. That massive redevelopment was sponsored by the mayor's office last fall before spiraling into failure in a public backlash.

What the mayor's office isn't explaining is why any of this is necessary. If it seems like it was only yesterday Mayor Ravi Bhalla was arguing he could spend money as he wished above and beyond for multiple staff and Chiefs of Staff, it's because it was.

When Ravi Bhalla announced he was increasing mayoral staffing 50% to the previous administration, (this in addition to another new office with multiple municipal employees being created to handle constituent services), the City Council balked. Business Administrator Steve Marks said the money could be spent however the mayor wished as available. Corporation Council Brian Aloia supported the move saying the City Council could not legally limit the higher costs imposed by Ravi Bhalla to taxpayers.

Some connect the additions to Ravi Bhalla's second job with a NJ based Republican law firm where he collects $60,000 in annual salary plus commissions to land new business which apparently appears in the form of HudCo legal government contracts.

In tandem the three roles occupied by Allen, Chaudhuri and Freeman, aka the Face Punchers for their in your face attacks on anyone who publicly failed to take a knee before the boss are collecting over $300,000 in annual salaries not including benefits.

By way of comparison when she started, former mayor Dawn Zimmer had two very effective mayoral staffers making not much more than $100,000 combined.

Fat double-digit raises went to the Face Punchers as Ravi Bhalla pushed for his three percent tax increase last spring. The City Council pared spending across the budget reducing his tax increase last year. The mayor's office countered by splitting the Face Puncher's costs into other departments like parking and legal.

Inside City Hall, the whispers throughout the building acknowledge the odd end-of-year announcement out of the mayor's office has less to do with restructuring and more with patronage protection.

"Ravi Bhalla learned nothing from his last budget," said an informed source who pointed to bigger troubles with municipal worker layoffs and Hoboken taxpayers facing a significant increase this year.

That sentiment was echoed by others up and down City Hall.

The rest of this article is premium content and will go out to members later today.