Jersey City Municipal Council
Jersey City Municipal Council

Members Also Address Housing Authority Labor Complaints and Vote to Withhold Pay to Covid Test Vendor

At Thursday’s City Council meeting, council intern Aleyna Kilic testified about a recent call to the city’s 911 operators that went unacknowledged for seven minutes.

Kilic, who works for Councilman-at-Large Daniel Rivera, said she and a friend went to the Pershing Field ice rink on Sunday, Feb. 6, to skate where, she said, they and others were attacked by an intruder. “My friend got the brunt of it,” she said.

Problems with Jersey City’s 911 system have previously been reported.

As the incident unfolded, Kilic said she tried twice to reach someone at 911, to no avail. “I let it ring six seconds and I got no answer,” she recalled. “I called again, this time for seven seconds with same result.”

A co-worker at the rink also called, Kilic said, “and she let it ring … 32 seconds — twice,” but no one answered, she said. “All the while, my friend was getting attacked,” Kilic added.

Kilic said that seven minutes later she got a call from a non-emergency number asking “if she had an emergency.” By that time, she said, the incident was over, and the ambulance had taken her wounded friend to the hospital where he was diagnosed with a concussion.

“I just wanted to bring this to the council’s attention,” Kilic said. “There needs to be some accountability and I think [Public Safety] Director [James] Shea needs to speak out about it because I know this is not a single incident. This [non-response by 9-1-1] has happened to countless numbers of Jersey City residents in the past year…. Seven minutes can mean life or death for someone….”

Acting City Business Administrator John Metro said the city’s 911 call logs can be checked to see what, if any, calls came in to the system during the times specified and how they were handled. Whether or not any type of corrective action is needed would be Shea’s decision, he said.

Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano, a retired Jersey City police officer whose ward includes Pershing Field, assured Kilic that a police report had been filed on the incident.

The council also heard complaints about strained labor-management relations involving the Jersey City Housing Authority and union employees. A delegation of the JCHA Employees Association voiced gripes about low wages, short-staffing and poor working conditions.

Union vice president Zaheer Aziz said that employees who have worked on-site all through the pandemic are being offered a 2.2% a year pay hike over three years while two high-level managers who continue to work from home are getting raises of $35,000 and $29,000, respectively.

Aziz said the JCHA is making it tough for both workers and the 7,000 on-site residents by providing minimal staffing and materials to handle repairs to apartments. “We have no electrician, no sewer cleaner and only one carpenter,” he said.

Union employee Telissa Dowling told the council the JCHA is no longer rated a “high-performing housing authority,” probably the result of what appears to be the JCHA’s policy of “forcing [employees] to take early retirement” and allowing apartments to fall into disrepair so that they can be transferred to private management ownership, thereby putting the availability of the city’s affordable housing stock “at peril.”

The union urged the council to investigate how the JCHA is using its budget. In response, Metro said the authority’s budgets “go through a rigorous federal audit,” the results of which “can impact its future funding.”

Several council members assured the union its plea wouldn’t be ignored.

As part of a continuing labor dispute between the developers of a residential tower at 70 Columbus Dr. and Service Employees International Union 32B, union porter Wilian Argueta spoke to protest the firing of a co-worker for speaking out against “bad working conditions.” Union representatives have pressed their complaints at prior council meetings.

In other business, a council majority turned aside a request by Bespoke Health LLC, of New York, for payment of an “emergency contract award” of $2.5 million “to provide Covid-19 tests to Jersey City residents as part of the city’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic” during a five-week period in January.

Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh said that, despite repeated requests by the council, “We haven’t seen an itemized list of expenditures by the company….I’m going to draw a red line here….I want to see how many tests have been given to account for [the money sought].”

Agreed, said Ward E Councilman James Solomon, adding, “We’ve asked for a breakdown of costs for months and haven’t seen anything.”

But the council, by majority vote, did approve a payment of $77,000 to McKesson Medical Surgical, of Fairfield, for the purchase and delivery of Covid test kits for the Department of Public Safety. The tests were purchased due to the rise of Covid cases and were for a combination Covid and the flu. A resolution backup sheet said: “Because of the emergency, time did not permit obtaining of formal quotes and [the city] OEM (Office of Emergency Management) secured [a] vendor that could ship Covid tests immediately.”

The council also approved the 2022 Jackson Hill Main Street Special Improvement District assessment roll and budget and adopted a resolution paying tribute to the memory of Ioanis Ioakimidis, a Greek immigrant who, with his spouse Stella Stefanidou, owned and operated Stella’s Pizzeria on Grove Street for more than 45 years. The couple had also been active members of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church.

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...