In the “us vs. them” world of Hoboken politics, very few major hires go through without heated debates.
Such is the case over the recent hiring of businessman and unsuccessful Hoboken council candidate John Corea, who will direct the always-controversial Hoboken Parking Utility.
Mayor David Roberts says Corea, 39, is an enthusiastic individual with a strong work ethic who will usher in a new era at the Parking Utility. The Parking Utility was created a year ago after Roberts disbanded the semi-autonomous Hoboken Parking Authority and assumed control of its budget and savings.
But critics of the administration note that Corea has no experience in running a Parking Utility, and they complain that his hiring is political payback for Corea’s support for the mayor’s candidate during June’s tightly contested City Council run-off election. Additionally, they point out that Corea ran into problems while he worked on Wall Street, and that a parking consultant conducted a national search for candidates for the job last year, but the city ended up giving it to Corea.
Also, the city has a hiring freeze on jobs that pay more than $25,000, meaning Corea had to be hired for $24,500. He was also hired in place of the Parking Authority’s longtime director, who has been demoted.
Started a year ago
On Jan. 1 2003, the city dissolved the 33-year old Hoboken Parking Authority (HPA) and brought all parking services under the umbrella of the Hoboken Parking Utility (HPU), which reports directly to the mayor and City Council. The city also took $8 million in revenues saved over the years by the HPA and plugged it into the city’s budget to fill a gap. The raiding of the HPA reserves gave credence to the critics’ argument that taking over the parking was more about money than about managing parking.
According to city officials, the goal of establishing the Parking Utility and directly managing parking was to “revolutionize” how parking is administered in Hoboken by reducing the size of management, improving enforcement and privatizing the city’s parking facilities.
Within a couple of weeks of its creation, the Parking Utility hired an independent professional parking consultant for several tasks, which included interviewing candidates for a permanent executive directorship, preparing for the privatization of the city’s garages, and conducting a full managerial review.
The former director of the Hoboken Parking Authority, JoAnne Serrano, stayed on as the process commenced. Serrano had worked her way up to the position over the years.
According to City Business Administrator Robert Drasheff, ads for the job lured approximately 25 resumes. At the time, he said, he was looking for candidate who was a good manager of finances and who knows how to run a parking agency.
The consultant narrowed the list down to four finalists and conducted interviews “about 11 months ago,” according to Drasheff.
Serrano was one of the four finalists at that time. Corea had not submitted a resume.
Then months passed without anyone being hired.
About “three or four weeks ago,” according to Drasheff, Corea was interviewed by the City Council’s transportation subcommittee. Two weeks later, the city announced that Corea had been hired to head the Parking Utility for a salary of $24,500.
The city currently has a freeze on hiring people for more than $25,000. However, once someone is hired at a lower salary, they can get raises.
Serrano has been demoted to a “management specialist” position at a salary of $60,000. She now reports to Corea.
Boss earns less
While Corea is now the highest ranking employee in the Parking Utility, the title that he was hired for was Parking Utility “monitor,” and not “executive director.” This technical distinction is an important one, because the hiring of a director has to be approved by a vote of the City Council, but every other position below a director’s “title” can be made at the discretion of the administration.
Therefore, the City Council, which might have had healthy debate over hiring Corea, never had an opportunity to discuss the hiring in a public forum.
According to Drasheff, the hiring was a necessary prelude to the next step in creating a more efficient Parking Utility.
“Corea’s enhanced management skills will allow us to move forward with the privatization of the city’s garages,” said Drasheff. He added that his background as a financial manager and local businessman show that he has the aptitude to successfully complete the privatization process. He added that this is a major reason he was selected over Serrano.
But what, exactly, is Corea’s experience?
Question of experience
The hiring of Corea raised red flags for many opponents of the administration. First, he has no experience working for or running a parking agency. The only experience he does have in regards to parking is that he was appointed chairman of a volunteer “Municipal Parking Committee” in October of 2003. The panel was “charged with monitoring the commodity of parking” in Hoboken. It has met twice.
When Corea was a member of the New York Stock Exchange in the 1990s, he was found guilty of improper trading, and was censured and permanently barred from trading again on the New York Stock Exchange.
According to documents from the NYSE, the error was in the range of $700,000.
“Mr. Corea’s conduct was so far removed from the standard of conduct expected of a member of the New York Stock Exchange, Inc. that no lesser penalty would be appropriate,” read a 1993 statement by Vincent F. Murry, the spokesperson for the NYSE hearing panel that heard Corea’s case.
According to Corea, a client walked away from a debt incurred during a falling market. Because Corea had brokered the deal, he faced the civil action. No criminal charges were ever filed. Corea blamed it on his own lack of experience and on a slip-up by his backup people. While he managed to repay some of the money back, he could not repay it all.
Corea was very clear about the fact that “there were absolutely no criminal charges.” He added that bitter political opponents are digging up something that happened nearly 15 years ago.
“That is something that is in the past,” said Corea, “and was something that was out of my control.”
He added that his past problems at the stock exchange are not relevant to his ability to run the Parking Utility.
Frank Turso, who was the last chairman now-defunct Hoboken Parking Authority, said that Serrano has decades of experience over Corea.
“What does he know about parking?” said Turso. “He has absolutely no experience. Zero, zip. The only reason that committee was even created in the first place was as a prelude – a reason to hire Corea. Anyone with any common sense at all knows that this is purely political.”
Councilman Michael Russo, a political opponent of the mayor, added that “Mrs. Serrano has been running that agency for years, and has consistently run it at a profit.” Russo’s father is former Mayor Anthony Russo, and his mother, Michele, was a Parking Authority commissioner.
Corea responded that the Parking Utility needs a more aggressive management approach to “tweak the Parking Utility and to take it to the next level.” He said his background in business makes him well-prepared to do that.
Corea added that his goals are to improve enforcement, upgrade the computer and electronic parking systems, and to guide the Parking Utility through the daunting task of privatizing the city’s garages.
He also said that when he ran for City Council in May, parking was his single biggest issue.
“Parking is passion for me,” said Corea. “I believe it is the biggest single quality of life issue facing the city today. I’ve lived here my entire life and understand the problem, and I have a lot of ideas that can make things better.”
Mayor Roberts described Corea as a “smart, energetic, and capable person that is going to make a noticeable difference when it comes to parking solutions.”
The mayor added that for the past several years Corea has been “in constant communication” with the administration about parking issues and was one of the most vocal lobbyists for the new angled parking on Hudson Street.
Critics of the administration also question whether this was political payback for Corea’s support for the mayor’s candidate in very close City Council election. In May of 2003, Corea ran for the City Council in the 2nd Ward with the Hoboken First organization. He loudly campaigned against Roberts’ administration.
Then after Corea came in third place, the reformers and the administration courted his support for their candidate in the run-off. Even by his own admission, he was on the fence about whom to support. After two weeks of consideration, he ended up supporting incumbent Richard Del Boccio, the mayor’s candidate.
Now the critics of the mayor are alleging that a deal has been made for his support. “All he did was bash the mayor when he was running,” said Russo. “Then after he lost, he did a 180 and supported the mayor’s candidate. I think it’s pretty clear that this job is a political favor from the mayor for keeping his mouth shut.”
Councilman Tony Soares added that he believed the hiring of Corea is “blatant political payback.”
“I’ve never seen a clearer cut case than this one,” he said.
We’ll see how he does
Roberts responded that Corea was hired because of his skills as a manager and not because of any kind of political patronage.
“John’s performance will be the determining factor in this entire thing,” said Roberts. “In three or four months, everyone will see the benefits of the new programs that he will implement, and then all of the political overtones will be removed.”
He added that whenever a person who is a political figure is hired, these issues are always raised.
“We need to let people stand on their abilities,” he said. “We want people like John who are willing to roll up their sleeves and work. This administration will not include or exclude anyone based solely on their political affiliation.”
Corea pointed the finger the other way said that it is other side that is practicing petty politics.
“It’s just sour grapes,” said Corea. “They’re just mad that I didn’t support them.”
He said that Russo is just upset that he supported Hoboken First’s candidate Vincent Addeo against his father, Anthony Russo, for 3rd Ward council in May.
He said Soares is upset because he “refused to be their candidate for mayor [in 2005].” Corea said Soares offered him the opportunity to run for mayor on a reform ticket, but that he turned them down.
Soares denied that he ever offered to support Corea as a mayoral candidate.
“Why in the world would I support someone for mayor that came in third place in a ward that he has lived in his entire life?” said Soares. “I wouldn’t support John Corea if he was last man on earth. At this point I wouldn’t even support him for dogcatcher.”
Why only $24,900?
Another problem that critics have with the hiring is that he was hired even though the city has a self-imposed hiring freeze.
According to the freeze, which passed unanimously by the City Council in October, no new city employees can be hired for a position over $25,000.
“This is a slap in the face to every council member that voted for the hiring freeze,” said Soares. He added that he anticipates that Corea will soon get a healthy raise. The hiring freeze doesn’t have any stipulation about not being allowed to give raises, said Soares.
The administration gives the salary situation an entirely different spin.
Drasheff said that Corea is a “community-minded fellow who took the position at the salary that the current hiring freeze allows.’
He added that the administration will wait until the hiring freeze is over in three months and will “evaluate the situation and make decision” about Corea’s salary.
One of the reasons for bringing in a parking consultant was to conduct a search for the most qualified director. Drasheff said that the position was duly advertised and four finalists were named, but three of the finalists took jobs elsewhere. Over eleven months, they had plenty of time.
Drasheff said that the transportation subcommittee and the administration felt that Corea was a better candidate than Serrano, the fourth finalist.
Russo and Soares said that they have a real problem with how the search was conducted. They said that the finalists were interviewed in February of 2003, 11 months ago.
“Of course they found other jobs,” said Soares. “We can’t expect them to sit around for 11 months unemployed. Anyone worth their weight in salt would have been able to get a job in that amount of time.”
He added that Serrano should be hired “by default” because she was the last finalist still available when the city was prepared to hire.
“He [Roberts] said that there was going to be a national search,” said Russo, “but that was just a hollow promise.”
Russo also said that Corea’s past problems with financial management are “absolutely relevant” to his ability to run an authority that has millions in outstanding bonds.