Controversial former Union City Zoning Board member promoted within Board of Ed

UNION CITY AND BEYOND — Critics of Union City Mayor Brian Stack who say he has a heavy hand in the Board of Education had more fodder for their theories recently when Justin Mercado was promoted within the school system to Director of Custodian Services and Governmental Code Compliance (with a salary of $93,200) at a board meeting on Oct. 27.
Mercado had served on the Union City Zoning Board from 2003 until February of 2010, when the Board of Commissioners did not reappoint him. There was a controversy surrounding his place of residence.
While Mercado’s election/voter record said he lived in Union City (which is a requirement in order to serve on the Zoning Board according to New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law), his wife and three children lived in a home in Hasbrouck Heights. At the time, Mercado responded by telling the media that he lived with his family for part of the week and stayed in Union City for the rest of the week.
The issue came to light because a developer had accused Stack of meddling in Zoning Board decisions, pointing to the Mercado matter as one instance. Developer Ralph Lieber was suing the city for $4 million in damages, alleging political favoritism in zoning and building approvals. Lieber alleged that because he was not a political favorite of Stack, Stack wanted the board to vote against a residential building he wanted to erect on his own property. Justin Mercado was among those who voted several times against Lieber’s proposal. Eventually Lieber settled out of court with the city for an undisclosed amount.
However, Mercado’s recent promotion came because someone else retired and not because of politics, said Superintendent of Schools Stanley Sanger on Thursday.
Mercado served in the school system for three years as supervisor in the same program before he took over for Lou Fusco, who retired, beginning on Nov. 1, Sanger said.
As for Mayor Brian Stack’s involvement in the school board vote, Stack spokesman Mark Albiez stated Thursday, “The Board of Education is independent of the city of Union City. The mayor does not have the authority to engage in [their] hiring processes.” — Gennarose Pope

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