It should have been a done deal by this week.
City Councilman Steven Fulop had submitted signatures last month to put two public issues on the ballot in Jersey City for the November general presidential election.
The first ballot initiative restricts City Council members from collecting second pensions and salaries from their council job if they are already working in another taxpayer-funded public job. (Right now, most of Jersey City’s council people also have full-time jobs with the county.) The second referendum curtails donations from professional service contractors such as construction companies, lawyers, and accountants who get lucrative no-bid city contracts.
But since July 29, Fulop has had to contend with a last-minute legal opinion offered by City Corporation Counsel Bill Matsikoudis – based on a state statute – calling for Fulop to submit 12,227 signatures for his salaries initiative, instead of the less than 2,000 he submitted.
The 12,227 number is based on 10 percent of registered voters in Jersey City, rather than 10 percent of the number who actually voted last time around. The latter was what Fulop believed he needed to get.
Fulop said he was following the standard set by the Faulkner Act, which created the City Council system of government for cities. In the act, the standard for getting signatures on a petition is 10 percent of people who voted in the last general election in which state Assembly members were elected. That means 10 percent of 15,055 Jersey City voters who elected Assembly members in November 2007, which are 1,506.
Fulop submitted over a little more that 1,800 signatures for each initiative on July 9 to City Clerk Robert Byrne. After the clerk and his staff checked through the signatures, they found that each initiative was about 150 signatures short and needed to be “cured,” or more signatures had to be submitted to take care of the deficits for the required amount.
Fulop was planning this past Friday to submit several hundred signatures to cure both problems.
Now, he also plans to submit a legal brief to the city refuting the 12,000-plus signature standard.
Fulop is optimistic that he will prevail and get his initiatives on the November ballot.
“We will fight it and we think we will be on strong legal ground,” Fulop said, referring to himself and a team of lawyers who have worked with him on the initiatives.Taking initiative against double dipping
Fulop’s the salary referenda would affect his colleagues on the City Council, since six council members – Mariano Vega, Peter Brennan, Willie Flood, Viola Richardson, Mary Spinello and Bill Gaughan – all work in government jobs.
But critics of the referenda take issue with both issues, especially with the salary initiative, since it might keep teachers, police officers, and postal workers and other public sector employees from running for a council seat.
One of those critics is Gaughan, who has served on the council since 1993.
“Most people don’t understand what they are getting into with these referendums,” Gaughan said. “Fulop can have two jobs because if you work on Wall Street, and you make triple figures like he does, then you can be on the council. I have a problem with that.”
Fulop works for a Wall Street brokerage firm and has donated his City Council salary of about $25,000 each year to charity for the past two years. A look back
Robert Byrne in an interview last week said if he’d known earlier about the 12,000-plus signature standard for the salary, he would have informed Fulop about it.
“Being in this job for 20 years, I don’t have many firsts left, and this was a first,” said Byrne.
Byrne also wished City Corporation Counsel Bill Matsikoudis had informed him of the standard earlier in the process rather than on July 29, after Byrne finished his review of the first set of signatures submitted by Fulop.
Matsikoudis could not be reached for comment last week.
Byrne also pointed out Fulop had local attorney James Carroll as one of the people who worked on the initiatives, so Carroll should have been able to inform him of the legal requirements. Comments on this story can be sent to email@example.com