ATLANTIC CITY - City Council, despite being ordered by the state to eliminate its council aide positions, wants to add another to the city's payroll.
The city's Personnel Department posted an advertisement to all city employees seeking to fill the position of "assistant to council member," a job title state officials have ordered the city to do without - because having the position violates New Jersey law. The city's administration, according to state officials, also was told this week not to make the hire, but others are still standing behind it.
Business Administrator Michael Scott said he knew nothing about the hire when first questioned Wednesday.
"That has to be some type of mistake," he said initially. Scott asked for time to look into the matter, then called back to say the job is being advertised by the legislative branch of the city's government.
City Council President William "Speedy" Marsh controls that branch of city government and defended his plans to hire a new aide, saying the services are needed and the employees in the City Clerk's Office are overwhelmed with their workload and cannot take on additional duties.
In January, the Office of the State Comptroller ordered city officials to eliminate their 11 council aides, a highlight in a scathing audit that contributed to Gov. Chris Christie's recently announced plan to take over aspects of Atlantic City's municipal services to help revitalize the resort.
New Jersey law allows municipalities with populations higher than 270,000 to allow four aides for each council member. Council members in a city with a population between 200,000 and 270,000 are entitled to one aide each. But any town smaller than 200,000 people is not permitted to employ council aides. Atlantic City's population is below 40,000.
At the time of the comptroller's review, it employed 11 aides. And the state is not ready to allow any new ones.
Pete McAleer, director of communications for the Office of the State Comptroller, said the city's administration contacted the state to determine whether it would be legal to proceed with the position. State officials told them no.
"We have been working with Atlantic City's administration since the issuance of our report to bring them in compliance with the law on the use of council aides," he wrote in a prepared statement. "Atlantic City's administration recently contacted us and asked if it was okay to fill a job vacancy for the position of ‘assistant to councilmember.' They were told this week that they could not."
City officials seemed willing to comply with the state's demand, with the exception of a few noisy complaints from Councilmen Steven Moore and Moisse Delgado. Marsh orchestrated the transfer of most of the aides to other city departments. However, there are currently two aides that still remain in their positions: Cheryl Banks, Mayor Lorenzo Langford's sister, and Brenda Harris, hired to the position in 1988.
Now, Marsh wants to bring in a new aide to replace the Rev. Evelyn Booze, who recently retired from her position after holding it for 27 years; she had a salary of $65,612.
Marsh said the current council aides, Banks and Harris, will both be leaving council's office soon. Harris is expected to retire in December, Marsh said. And he intends to transfer Banks, though he did not know what her assignment would be. He said she could become the mayor's new chief-of-staff, a position she held during Langford's first term.
The council president also argues that Booze was not a council aide, but an administrator of the City Council Office.
"She was not assigned to any one council member," he said.
However, State Comptroller Matthew Boxer identified 11 council aides in his report, including Booze, and he ordered all 11 positions to be dissolved.
Marsh also noted that the advertisement has been published only in-house, insisting that the hiring would not add to the city's costly payroll and its ailing budget, currently at $224 million.
Asked if he could guarantee that the current employee selected to fill the council aide position would not be replaced by a new hire, Marsh said, "That would likely come under the administration. I wouldn't have any say in that."
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