Linden mayor takes flak over resolution to change broker

LINDEN, NJ — Mayor Derek Armstead came under fire at a March 20 council meeting for attempting to drop a freeholder candidate’s husband as one of the city’s brokers.

A resolution put on the agenda by the mayor would have rescinded a January contract appointing Economic Planning Group as a broker for the Voya Financial Services Account, which handles city employees’ retirement funds. Union County Freeholder candidate Kimberly Palmieri-Mouded’s husband, George Mouded, works as a planner for EPG.

The mayor’s resolution would have given the contract to Linden’s current dental insurance broker, RD Parisi Associates, which is owned by West Orange Mayor Robert D. Parisi.

But the measure never passed after 6th Ward Councilman John Roman pointed out that Parisi had made a $1,000 contribution to Armstead’s 2014 mayoral campaign. Councilwomen Gretchen Hickey and Rhashonna Cosby, who are both challenging Armstead for mayor this year, also objected.

The original resolution, which had been presented the previous day to council members only, awarded the contract to RD Parisi Associates, but was later updated to add a Wells Fargo broker. Roman said the resolution had to be updated because RD Parisi Associates couldn’t handle the work alone.

“Parisi Associates by themselves aren’t able to do the work because, as counsel said before, they’re just our dental insurance people and they don’t do deferred compensation,” Roman said.

“That’s why they need the extra (broker). I see here that we are hiring this firm, but they didn’t apply for a (request for qualifications) back in November when we put it out,” he added.

The original resolution showed that the no-bid contract to RD Parisi Associates was “in the best interests of the city.”
EPG was awarded a contract with the city at a Jan. 16 meeting for 2018, the agenda showed. Neither EPG or RD Parisi Associates would be directly paid by the city, but by Voya Financial.

The move comes amid deep-rooted alliances that were sown during the recent special election for Union County Democratic Committee chair. Armstead broke ties with state Sen. Nicholas Scutari to endorse the senator’s challenger for chair, Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr. However, Scutari won the election for chair, and now the Linden Democratic Committee — which Scutari also heads — has endorsed Hickey for mayor over Armstead in the June primaries.

Palmieri-Mouded, a former candidate for Westfield council, was recently endorsed by the county’s Democratic Party for freeholder, too. Armstead said his resolution dropping her husband’s contract with the city had nothing to do with politics.

“I had no idea that George Mouded was even related to Kim Palmieri as she didn’t use Mouded as her last name,” Armstead said in a March 28 email to LocalSource. “So no, it had nothing to do with what you are implying as political. Furthermore RD Parisi Associates has worked for the City of Linden since 2015 handling our dental, and has done an outstanding job.”

According to Roman, the resolution appointing RD Parisi Associates called for them to document any reportable campaign contributions made in the previous year.

Armstead replied, “Is that relevant?” when asked by Roman if he had received any contributions from Parisi Associates beyond last year.
Hickey, who represents the 10th Ward, said EPG was “licensed” and “qualified” to handle Voya Financial retirement funds. “I am hoping that council members tonight know that this is about $30 million in our employees’ hard-earned retirement plan,” Hickey said during the council meeting. “It’s not about political games when it comes to this.”

Cosby, who represents the 5th Ward, asked for the resolution to be pulled from the agenda at the March 20 meeting. The resolution was pulled in a 5-4- 1 vote.

“So I’m not supporting this,” Cosby said. “Voting for someone, who, No. 1, is not on the list of qualified vendors, and No. 2, who, because of their relationship with a politician, expects to get some type of political payback.”

Council members Lisa Ormon, Alfred Mohammed, Ralph Strano, and Michele Yamakaitis opposed pulling the resolution. Councilman Peter Brown, Jr. was absent, while Barry Javick abstained.

EPG, meanwhile, is still working for Linden, the city attorney told LocalSource.