City Councilman Steven Fulop has not given up on his special mission in recent months – to place two referenda on next November’s ballot in Jersey City, allowing residents to vote on reforming Jersey City government at the same time as they pick the next U.S. president.
He and approximately 185 volunteers have been gathering signatures in order to place Fulop’s two government reform measures on the ballot in the fall.
The first referendum would prevent local elected officials and government employees from collecting more than one taxpayer-financed salary. Right now, most of the City Council’s nine members also work full-time for county government.
The second referendum would make it illegal for any entity that does business with the city, such as a developer or contractor, to make a political contribution to a local candidate for a one-year period.185 people volunteering
Last October, Fulop held a meeting at the bar/restaurant LITM on Newark Avenue in Jersey City, where he explained his referendums to a crowd of over 100 people. After the meeting, attendees were asked to submit their names and addresses for a list of volunteers Fulop would put together.
In the months since the meeting, these volunteers have gone out with petitions and collected signatures for the referendums to be placed on the November ballot.
In recent months, Fulop has also created Partnership for a Better JC, a nonprofit, community-based organization with a Web site (www.betterjc.com), to explain the referendums.
Last week in an interview, Fulop explained how the process of collecting signatures for the petition has been going. “They’re out there – 185 volunteers with 185 packages, and they are getting signatures, so it is working,” Fulop said. Couldn’t do it at council level
Previously, Fulop encouraged his fellow council members to vote for his proposed legislation, but to no avail.
In January of 2007, Fulop pushed for passage of a version of the state’s “pay-to-play” laws, which ban political contributions from contractors doing business with a municipality within a certain time period. Fulop’s version would have also applied to real estate developers, but it was voted down by the City Council.
Later in September, he tried to pass a resolution that would have made the city’s ethics code among the strictest in the state.
The resolution would have banned public officials from holding more than one public office or multiple-salaried and appointed public positions within Hudson County – whether elected or appointed. It also would have barred public officials from using a city automobile for personal use, and banned city officials from lobbying the city or city agencies for three years after they left office. His goals
The referenda are actually specific about how to combat some of these government problems.
For instance, the referendum on municipal salaries would make positions on the City Council either non-paying or come with a salary of $1 if the council member had a greater-paying job.
Currently, City Council members receive an annual salary between $25,000 and $30,000, with City Council President Mariano Vega making about $32,000 per year.
Fulop said that eventually, he would like to make a City Council seat a full-time position rather than part-time as it is now.
Eight of the council members, including Fulop, work full-time at other jobs, five working in county government. One councilman, Michael Sottolano, is retired after more than 30 years working in city government.
Fulop said, “I would argue that we can have better quality candidates and, hopefully, more proactive representation as a whole in our elected officials if you incentivize properly.”
He added, “You need to disincentivize people from multiple salaries and pensions, and we hope to straighten that out in this process.”
On the campaign finance referendum, Fulop said, “People just got their tax bill; their tax bill is inflated and the city is not pursuing the best contracts possible all the time as it relates to the taxpayers’ dollars. It ultimately trickles down to the taxpayer.” To get the matters on the ballots
Volunteers working on Fulop’s petition drive are carrying packets that contain the following: directions on what they must do when securing signatures on a petition, a voter registration application, and separate petitions for each referendum.
Before anyone signs a petition, that person has to sign a voter registration form, unless they are already registered in Jersey City. This is because only signatures from local registered voters are valid for referendum petitions. In the past, petitions have been struck down because a number of signatures were ruled to be invalid.
Those voter registration forms will be turned in to the Hudson County Board of Elections Office before the petitions are submitted to Jersey City’s City Clerk Robert Byrne.
Fulop must collect an amount of signatures on the petitions equal to 15 percent of the total voter turnout from the 2007 November general election in Jersey City.
Fulop said he is “confident” he will get those signatures by this spring, as the volunteers have been going out every weekend since December.
He said they have been canvassing primarily the downtown, Journal Square, and Heights sections of the city since the majority of the volunteers are coming from these areas.
“We are out there plugging away,” Fulop said.
He also said he is getting out the word at various community meetings such as the Jan. 29 meeting of the Jimmy King Civic Association, one of the larger civic associations in the city, where 150 people heard Fulop speak on the referenda. Comments on this story can be sent to email@example.com.