The creation of a new position at the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue (NHRFR), which serves as a regional fire department for five city municipalities, is at the center of a political battle between Assemblymen Silverio “Sal” Vega of the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) and Brian Stack of the Democrats for Hudson County (DFHC).
Both men are running to become the state Senator for the 33rd District, which covers Union City, West New York, Guttenberg, Hoboken, Weehawken, and part of Jersey City.
On Tuesday morning, Sal Vega, who is currently an assemblyman and the mayor of West New York, held a press conference highlighting a new $75,000 a year part-time executive director position that he claimed was created for Brian Stack. He alleged that Stack would get the job after the election, giving him three part-time jobs at once. Stack is the mayor of Union City and, like Vega, an assemblyman.
Vega’s suspicions were aroused because two current directors who have the equivalent positions recently received a salary jump from about $56,000 to $75,000, which Vega alleges was done to give Stack the salary he wanted in order to take the third position.
“When you pull a stunt like this and for political purposes, it’s impossible to go to Trenton to protect the tax savings [of the constituents],” said Vega.
Stack said last week that he has absolutely no interest in the position, and would turn it down if it were offered.
“I wouldn’t take it,” said Stack. “These press conferences are an act of desperation, and clearly Mr. Vega is being a puppet for the HCDO.”
Only one named for the job?
According to NHRFR Executive Director Mike DiOrio, who assisted Vega with the press conference, the third position has been in discussion for the last two years. Around October to November of last year, resolutions were drawn up changing the two directors to three. According to DiOrio, almost everyone knew the job was created for Brian Stack. In addition, DiOrio noted that he and co-director Jeff Welz were given substantial raises.
“The whole premise was to have a [base] salary suitable to Brian Stack,” said DiOrio at Vega’s press conference. “We were all aware of it. No one knew [or heard] of another name.”
NHRFR Management Committee Member Frank Bruno corroborated DiOrio’s statement at the conference. He said, “The only name brought up was Brian Stack.” He also claimed that Stack’s name has been brought up several times within the last few months.
Last Monday, April 23, Vega attended the monthly meeting of the Management Committee for the NHRFR, which is chaired by Mayor Richard Turner of Weehawken.
“The chairman of the board [Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, one of Stack’s allies] has put together a concept to create a position that first of all is not needed, and second of all [is] to be given to the mayor of Union City, Brian Stack,” said Vega, “a person who is not qualified to hold the title of director of the NHRFR program.”
Turner explained last week why the position was created.
Turner said that the position would help with implementing a new educational component for the community regarding fire safety and prevention.
“It was felt that one of the areas we should do more work [for] is community outreach for fire prevention and safety, especially for high-rises and multi-family buildings,” said Turner.
Turner acknowledged that he had recommended Stack two years ago as a possible coordinator for the program, when the NHRFR had begun work on implementing a new educational component.
“He declined the job, and has never had any interest in the job,” said Turner. “[At that time] he was a new assemblyman, a mayor, and he did not feel comfortable having a third public job.”
Creating a new position
During the Management Committee’s reorganization meeting almost eight months ago, the resolutions to move forward with the program, including the creation of the third director position, were drawn up and presented to the five municipalities under the NHRFR, for adoption.
The resolutions to approve the component and new position were adopted by North Bergen, West New York, and Weehawken, although North Bergen last week rescinded the resolution. They are still waiting on Union City and Guttenberg.
Vega said that he supports the idea of the program, but not adding another position.
“This is an excellent idea and an idea I support, but within the resolution, you have an attempt to create a third director position,” said Vega. “I will now be looking to rescind the resolution unless the two concepts [program and position] are separated.”
The position itself would not entail conducting the education, but coordinating the resources and the personnel to undertake the education component.
“At the same time [in the last few months], the [current] directors’ reappointments came up, and at the same time we do their salaries,” said Turner.
The salary cap for the two current executive directors, who were unanimously reappointed, were set at a total of $75,000 through 2010, which the Vega team claims was done to give Stack the salary he wanted for the position.
However, Turner said Stack has never been brought up again for the positions, and the salaries were set by contract. He said these are part-time positions on four-year contracts.
“It averages out over 11 years at a 3.9 percent increase a year,” said Turner. “They still earn below what we pay everyone else, and they are on call weekends, weekdays, and holidays. This is why we do it.”
Originally, when the director positions were created several years ago, the salaries were supposed to begin at $50,000. But they were brought down to $42,000 since the program was just getting started, Turner said.
“If it wasn’t for Vega running against Stack, this wouldn’t be an issue,” said Turner last week. “No mayor has ever brought the issue of politics to the NHRFR, and we have always gone out of our way to keep from bringing politics into the board.”
Last week, Vega also called for Turner’s resignation as NHRFR chairman, for which Turner receives a $7,000 stipend each year. Vega also would like written documentation that Stack will never fill the director position.
“I am not going to dignify his political grandstanding,” said Turner. “Mayor Stack does not want the position now or in the future, and I said it yesterday in the [Management Committee] meeting, which somebody videotaped.”
According to Turner, the salaries will stand, but for now the third position will remain unfilled until after political season, and may not even remain as a director position. The primary election is June 8.
In the meantime, Stack noted that the only “triple-dipper” in this scenario is Vega, who currently serves as mayor, assemblyman, and the athletic director for Memorial High School in West New York. He claimed that the athletic direction position is a “no show” job.
“He has three jobs and does not do one efficiently,” said Stack. “He has had all this time to practice politics, and my concern is, when do the children of West New York come in?”
In reference to DiOrio and Bruno, who assisted the Tuesday press conference with Vega, Stack said, “Nice guys, but clearly under the thumb of [North Bergen Mayor and 32nd Dist. State Senator] Nick Sacco.” Sacco is running for re-election as state senator for the 32nd District.
Stack also had served as a member of the NHRFR Management Committee a few years ago, which is five-member board made up of one representative from each town under the NHRFR. Members receive an annual $7,000 stipend, but Stack claims he never took it. Jessica Rosero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org