Passaic City Councilmember Jackson Apologizes

17 08 2007

MEREDITH MANDELL – HERALD NEWS

Passaic, NJ – Marcellus Jackson on Thursday became the latest elected official to issue a public apology for trying to give the city’s eight elected officials retirement benefits beyond those offered to hundreds of other city employees.

At an early-morning meeting called especially for the purpose, six of the city’s seven council members voted to rescind a resolution they approved in May. Councilman Gerardo Fernandez was absent from the meeting called for 8:45 a.m. at council chambers. Fewer than 10 members of the public were present.

The vote capped several weeks of intense public scrutiny over the council’s approval of the resolution that extended medical benefits to elected officials who retire after 15 years of service instead of the requisite 25 years of service for the city’s nearly 700 employees. The resolution covered the seven council members and the mayor.

Before the vote, Jackson read a public apology. He was the only council member to comment.

“I want to say to the citizens of Passaic, I apologize for this mistake that was made,” he said. “I take full responsibility for it … This will never happen again.”

Council President Gary Schaer, who issued a public apology two weeks ago, called for the emergency meeting after he failed to get the votes needed at the council’s regular meeting on Aug. 7. Schaer, also a state assemblyman, called the original resolution an “egregious error” and promised to put forth a resolution to rescind it in response to inquiries by the Herald News two weeks ago.

“I’m very pleased that the people who didn’t agree to rescind before, recognized the importance of doing it,” Schaer said after the vote. “It’s a good vote for the people of Passaic.”

Mayor Samuel Rivera, 60, was out of the country and unavailable for comment Thursday. His spokesman Keith Furlong said the mayor had asked for a resolution rescinding the vote to be put on the council’s next agenda before Schaer called for Thursday’s special meeting.

“When looked at, all the issues with regard to post-retirement benefits being different from the other members of the pension system, in fairness, he supported rescinding it,” Furlong said. “There shouldn’t be special treatment for elected officials.”

Councilwoman Maritza Colon-Montanez, who abstained from the 3-3 deadlock vote on Aug. 7, and Councilman Jose Garcia who voted not to rescind, both changed their votes Thursday. Neither returned phone calls after the meeting to comment on their change.

The original resolution authorized the city, through the State Employee Health Benefits Program, to pay for the premiums of elected officials who retired at age 62 and their spouses.

Rivera said last week that city Business Administrator Greg Hill put forth the initial resolution to help him. Rivera has 18 years of public service and is 60 years old.

The resolution would have meant thousands of dollars a year in savings for the part-time elected officials.

Employees who retire and do not meet the years of service requirement must pay monthly premiums ranging from $364 to more than $1,800, depending on their level of coverage, according to the state’s Division of Pensions and Benefits.

Jackson has said that he initially thought the May resolution meant lowering the years of service for elected officials and all city employees.

Before the vote Thursday, Jackson said he had spoken with Financial Director Jose Agosto about lowering the threshold of service for all city employees but decided against it when he learned the costliness of the proposal. He said Agosto estimated it would cost the city an additional $5 million annually to lower the threshold for everyone.

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2 responses

23 08 2007
jones

Marcellus has some class unlike some other city council members from Passaic

6 09 2007
John

Haha! Class enough to accept 16 grand of bribes and say “I appreciate it, baby. Good things is gonna happen.”

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