LINDEN, NJ — Mayor Derek Armstead is in line to reap the financial rewards of his landslide re-election victory three weeks ago.
Armstead, who won the mayoral race with 70 percent of the vote, could receive a 40-percent pay raise starting next year. His current salary is $73,425, and he could earn as much as $103,757 annually to run the city of about 42,000 people.
The proposed raise, part of an ordinance introduced at the Nov. 20 City Council meeting, has at least two detractors.
Rhashonna Cosby, who was the only member of the City Council to vote against the ordinance when it was introduced at the Nov. 20 meeting, said the mayor is entitled to a standard raise as are all the department heads in the city’s government.
“However,” she said, “when you make a raise from where you were to where you want to be, $103,000, and you want to create position for a part-time person to be your chief of staff at $45,000, that’s excessive. And you have a secretary and the city is paying public relations for the Mayor’s Office. I’m opposed to that.”
Former Linden Mayor Richard Gerbounka, who ran as an independent on a promise to cut the mayoral position’s salary in half when he ousted longtime Mayor John Gregorio in the 2006 general election, called Armstead’s proposed raise “obscene.”
“A mayor of a town of 42,000 people doesn’t deserve a 40-percent pay increase,” he said in an interview with LocalSource on Nov. 26. “He’s being sufficiently compensated at about $70,000 to $75,000 a year, plus benefits. And therefore, any councilman who votes for that should be taken to task next time they come up for re-election.”
Gerbounka, who lost to Armstead by 228 votes in the 2014 mayoral election, said Gregorio had been making about $140,000 annually. Gerbounka, who was drawing a pension after serving as a captain in the Linden Police Department, lowered the mayoral position’s salary to $70,000.
Gerbounka said not only will the unions for the police, fire department, city clerks and others take notice of the proposed raise, but it likely will affect local taxpayers.
“It’s the taxpayer that’s going to be paying the salaries,” he said. “And, you have to remember the other unions look at something like this, and when they see a 40 percent raise, they will be thinking, ‘If an elected official can get 40 percent, we should get 10 or 20 percent because we work hard, too.’”
Ordinance No. 62-84, described on the agenda provided to the public as “an ordinance to amend the ordinance entitled ‘An ordinance establishing a schedule of titles, salary ranges and regulations for maintaining the classification and salary standardization plan of all employees of the city of Linden,’ received no public comment and was introduced by the council.
Council members Lisa Ormon, Barry Javick, Alfred Mohammed, John Francis Roman, Ralph Strano, Michele Yamakaitis, Armando Medina and Jorge Alvarez all voted in favor of introducing the ordinance. Cosby was the only member of the council to vote against its introduction. Council members Peter Brown and Gretchen Hickey were not at the meeting.
The first paragraph of the ordinance was listed in the agenda, and the full ordinance, obtained by LocalSource from the City Clerk’s Office, contains four additional sections. The ordinance calls for a vote on a “change of the salary schedule” of various city positions, including the mayor.
The attachment to the ordinance, also obtained by LocalSource from the City Clerk’s Office, shows the annual salary parameters for 86 city employees, from accounting assistant to violations clerk. According to this attachment, the position of mayor would pay a minimum of $100,000 and a maximum of $103,757.
Armstead said he works hard and deserves a pay raise. When reached via phone on Nov. 21 for comment on the proposed raise, he said he was the only one in City Hall working on the day before Thanksgiving and that “everyone else is gone.”
“When you think about it, I’m still the lowest paid department head in the city,” Armstead said. “There are patrolmen, who after a couple of steps, will be making more than the mayor makes after being on for a couple of years. I earn my money. I deserve it.”
According to the Armstead, some part-time mayors in other towns earn about $75,000 a year. He also noted that he formerly held a full-time job working for the county in information technology, but left that position to devote his full attention to his job as mayor.
“I wanted to make sure I devoted my time and energy to this one job and do a good job at it,” Armstead said. “I think the residents feel that way. The residents feel as though I’m doing a good job. I eliminated the garbage tax. I lowered taxes last year. We’re on course. Our budget looks very good this year.
“I have some newly elected Board of Education members who are going to be working very closely with me to lower their taxes next year. I think we’re moving in the right direction here.”
Armstead congratulated newly elected Board of Education candidates Patrick Gargano, Doris Johnson and Marianthe Manganello at the Nov. 20 council meeting, and also thanked the city’s residents for voting for him.
“I’m honored to be the mayor of this town,” he said. “I’m going to have four more years to continue to work forward. I’m not a perfect mayor, but I will say this: My heart is in this town. I’m committed to moving it forward for everybody. You see me out there fighting hard to get people elected.
“You see me fighting hard to get myself re-elected. It’s because I have a vision and that vision is to move this city forward for the good of all our citizens. I believe we can do it. I always say, thank you residents for electing me because if it wasn’t for you, there would be no me.”
In the June primary, despite failing to secure the Democratic party endorsement, Armstead received more than 58 percent of the vote to defeat Hickey and Cosby, who together received about 42 percent. Hickey was the endorsed Democrat.
With the Democratic nomination, Armstead easily won the general election on Nov. 6, with 8,585 votes or 70.06 percent of the votes. Independent candidate John Principato received 2,658 votes or 21.69 percent of the votes, and fellow independent candidate Adam Kuczynski received 1,011 votes or 8.25 percent of the votes.
A council conference meeting is schedule for Dec. 18, at 6 p.m. and a regular council meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m.