Linden council OKs mayor’s raise despite protests

Photo Courtesy of City of Linden webpage
Linden Mayor Derek Armstead will receive a retroactive pay raise worth a one-time payment of $26,000.

LINDEN, NJ — Mayor Derek Armstead will receive about a 36 percent pay raise retroactive to Jan. 1 despite protests by some council members and residents who characterized it as “greedy” and “excessive.”
Armstead’s raise, which will push his salary to $100,000 a year, rankled many at the Dec. 18 Council meeting who said he shouldn’t be receiving a $26,000 check for Christmas.

“So, yes, a 40 percent raise is a little excessive, “ said Tanya Grissett, a resident. “There may be other towns that are paying a higher salary than the mayor is currently getting now, but I think those cities are a better off. … Forty percent? Excessive. One year, retroactive? Very excessive. Someone spoke earlier and said maybe (make it) retroactive a couple days or maybe a month. A year? I don’t know. It seems a little crazy.”

“Retro (retroactive raises are) supposed to be for contractual employees,” said Councilwoman Rhashonna Cosby, who ran against Armstead in last June’s Democratic primary. “When you have non-bargaining for the employees who want to be made whole, in my opinion, that’s greedy at the end of the day.”

Armstead’s pay increase was part of an ordinance to give retroactive pay raises to 65 city employees. It passed by a 6-5 vote at the meeting.

Alexis Zack, municipal treasurer and city CFO, said that the city attorney, municipal judge and employees in other “unclassified” positions — those not bargained by a union — would be receiving 2.5 percent raises. She also said that 50 of the 65 employees listed in the ordinance are crossing guards who will be getting a raise of 50 cents an hour.

Zack said the amount of salary increases to be given out under the ordinance adds up to about $73,000, meaning that Armstead’s raise represents about 36 percent of the total.

The ordinance also creates a chief of staff for the mayor’s office, a position that was called into question at the meeting.
“Do we need it?” said Hugh O’Hara, a resident. “We’re not doing anything spectacular as far as development or anything like that. Maybe once we’ve got some shovels in the ground, we can come back and look at these issues.”

The only time Armstead addressed the pay raise at the meeting was in response to comments made by John Principato, a former member of the fire department who ran against Armstead in November. Principato questioned the decision to hire a chief of staff — a part-time position with a pay range of $35,000 to $45,000 a year — instead of putting the money toward hiring a business administrator.

“Let me remind you that in the four years I have been here (as mayor), we’ve budgeted for a business administrator, an assistant business administrator and a secretary for that particular office, over $300,000 in salaries for four years that we didn’t use that we rolled over and I gave back to taxpayers in the way of a savings that contributed to our tax reduction last year,” Armstead said.
Armstead also said he held a position in information technology for Union County that paid $60,000 a year when he was drawing a salary as the part-time mayor. Since those salaries added up to about $130,000 a year, Armstead indicated he was earning less money but focusing more time on running the city.

Councilman Peter Brown Jr., who voted in favor of the ordinance, said that “all we’re doing is bringing him (Armstead) back in line with the other department heads.”

Armstead, who is the head of the police department, said that he was the lowest-paid department head in the city during a Nov. 21 phone interview. He also said that some part-time mayors in other towns earn about $75,000 a year. He added that he deserves the raise because he works “very hard.”

Council members John Francis Roman and Gretchen Hickey agreed that Armstead deserved a raise, but voted against the ordinance.

“My dad retired because of a broken neck 25 years ago yesterday from GM and they haven’t been well off ever since,” Roman said. “Our family has never been well off. I don’t think my parents ever had $25,000. I can imagine out of 42,000 people in the city, there’s probably a handful that have $25,000 on hand. I can’t vote for this ordinance and I wanted to. I wanted to. I think actually, mayor, you deserve a raise. But $26,000 is steep.”

Hickey, who also ran unsuccessfully against Armstead in the June primary, read a portion of the article about Armstead’s raise from the Nov. 29 edition of LocalSource in which the mayor said that “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.”

“I know the mayor’s job is a 24/7 job just like us (council members),” she said. “But, one, do it with tactfulness. Do it with normal increases. And please don’t ever compare yourself to someone who is on the street and whose life is put into danger every moment. My father was a Linden police officer and he was shot in the line of duty, making about $30,000 a year. And you know what? He didn’t want an increase. He did it because he loved it. He figured out a way to feed four kids and he did it because he loved it. It wasn’t about money.”

Council members Armando Medina and Jorge Alvarez also voted against the ordinance. Council members Brown, Lisa Ormon, Barry Javick, Alfred Mohammed, Ralph Strano and Michele Yamakaitis voted in favor of it. The mayor indicated he would hire someone to fill the chief of staff position. He said he expects to have it filled in January.