UNION COUNTY — The New Jersey Local Finance Board chairman blasted Union County Democratic Chairwoman Charlotte DeFilippo for the “outrageous” $160,000-a-year salary she draws as head of the Union County Improvement Authority.
Chairman Tom Neff’s harsh words about DeFilippo came when the UCIA legal counsel, Jonathan Williams, appeared before the Local Finance Board asking for approval to float $20 million in financing for a student facility and other offices at Union County College.
DeFilippo, 67, who works from her home with the approval of the county because she is handicapped, not only draws a six-figure salary, but also has the same health benefits as county employees.
Neff took issue with this, according to a transcript LocalSource obtained of the Local Finance Board meeting April 10 in Trenton. His comments focused not only on the project Williams was presenting for work at the college, but more on DeFilippo as the UCIA executive director.
“The questionnaire that the UCIA filled and submitted to the board as part of this application was, I thought, shocking,” Neff told Williams at the hearing.
He went on to summarize that DeFilippo was also entitled to bank her sick and vacation days and will be entitled to a “payout” at the end of her career.
“I’m not quite sure who supervises her, apparently nobody. Apparently she keeps her own time for sick and vacation days. It is unconscionable,” the Local Finance Board chairman said, according to the transcript of the meeting. DeFillipo receives 35 vacation and 15 sick days.
“But, you know, I just … I haven’t seen anything that disgusting since I’ve been here in two and one-half years. It is really outrageous,” Neff said at the April 10 meeting. He also put his foot down about the Union County College project and any others the UCIA was planning in the future.
“I can’t, no matter how good the underlying projects are that are coming out of that authority, I can’t support them as long as that’s going on,” Neff said.
Williams tried to neutralize the situation, and get an opportunity to straighten out any misunderstandings Neff might have.
“It seems like a heavy lift at this point because of some of the things you described. But I can assure you, there are answers and reasonable explanations for many of the things that you are asking about,” the UCIA general counsel told Neff.
Neff, appointed by Republican Gov. Chris Christie more than two years ago, also compared DeFilippo’s salary to the head of Hudson County Improvement Authority. That individual receives about the same salary to supervise 75 employees who work on more ambitious projects, he said.
He brought up, according to the transcript, that the head of the Atlantic County Improvement Authority makes about $100,000 and supervises five time as many employees as DeFilippo and has “substantive programs that he runs.”
On Tuesday, DeFilippo was still reeling from Neff’s comments last week, maintaining that she was “shocked and appalled.”
“To say I’m accountable to no one is a fallacy,” she said, explaining that she reports to the UCIA board and the freeholder board. DeFilippo was also ready to defend her six-figure salary.
“Make no mistake. I am well paid for what I do, but I have 33 years experience in government and no different benefits than any other county employee,” she said.
The UCIA executive director also pointed out that Neff comparison of what she does to other improvement authority executive directors is not a fair assessment.
“Other improvement authorities have different mission statements. Ours not only finances projects, but we do mammoth projects,” DeFilippo explained, citing, for example, the multi-million dollar solar panel project that three-quarters of county towns took part in during the last few years.
“This was not done by osmosis. It was done by hard work,” she said.
DeFilippo said she was hopeful that Neff will take another look at what she has accomplished as executive director.
“I believe that upon reflection Mr. Neff will realize that his statement was capricious,” she added.
Williams defended DeFilippo’s job and salary as the executive director of the UCIA on Friday in an interview, pointing out that improvement authorities cannot be compared.
“When Charlotte took over 10 or 11 years ago she made incredible strides,” he said, citing such projects as the Park Madison development in Plainfield, a mixed-use development that helped transform the downtown; the county juvenile detention center; four firehouses and the new library, all in Linden; the child advocacy center; and the Prosecutor’s Office improvements.
“I don’t think Mr. Neff understands the nature of this authority,” Williams said, adding that what took place when he went before the local finance board was “particularly puzzling.”
“He actually said he would never vote for this project at Union County College or any county projects until he has answers about what was on the questionnaire,” the UCIA attorney added. However, Williams wants an opportunity to go back before the Local Finance Board to straighten things out.
“I want to meet with them to explain the authority’s projects. What they don’t know is that Charlotte is hands-on in every thing that goes on,” Williams said.
Williams also said he was distressed at what Neff said, but has the utmost respect for him.
“I was very respectful to him because he does a great job as chairman, but I want to correct any misinformation he may have,” the attorney added.
On Friday the county responded to Neff’s comments regarding DeFilippo, noting they were “proud of the outstanding accomplishments of the UCIA.”
“After 10 years of her leadership as executive director, the Improvement Authority has built numerous award-winning projects,” said Union County Communications Director Sebastian D’Elia, who also is a commissioner on the UCIA board.
“We proudly stand behind her work and the Improvement Authority’s efforts for our residents,” he added
On the other hand, the Real Democrats for Change, which is mounting primary challenges in some areas, wasted no time in providing a statement of its own, suggesting the comments by Neff “were right on the money.”
“Her ability to earn $160,000 a year while working out of her house with only two to supervise is plain wrong,” according to a release from Barry Brendel of the Real Democrats for Change. “Her defense by the authority’s attorney who has earned millions of dollars from Union County is that because she is handicapped she should work at home is an insult to all handicapped citizens.”
The Real Democrats for Change also pointed out that prior to DeFilippo taking over as UCIA executive director, the position was part time and at a fraction of the money paid to the Hillside resident and Democratic chairwoman. The group also took exception to DeFilippo “boasting of her skill” on the job.
“A former one-term freeholder and former municipal clerk hardly qualifies her for the exalted position,” said Brendel, adding “we think it is her political skills rather than her financial acumen that landed her the job.”
Documents obtained from the Local Finance Board that were filled out by DeFilippo and Williams prior to the hearing provided information previously not disclosed to the public regarding the financial status of the UCIA as well as DeFilippo’s contract.
For example, a five-year employment agreement, negotiated in December 2012 for DeFilippo and obtained from the finance board, pointed out the Democratic chairwoman serves full time as the UCIA executive director, earning $160,866.43 annually for her services. She also received health benefits and is enrolled in the state pension plan.
DeFilippo, the contract noted, is the UCIA chief operating officer, leader and manager who guides the day-to-day operations, budget and services of the authority.
Although appointed by the Union County Freeholder Board, she reports directly to the UCIA Board of Commissioners, which includes Anthony Scutari, Carolyn Vollero, John Salerno, Joseph Miskiewicz, Walter Boright, Linda Hines, Samuel McGhee, Cherron Roundtree and D’Elia.
In the contract, DeFilippo is also “held harmless for any claims arising from an act or omission … within the scope of the employee.”
DeFilippo, the contract indicated, receives 35 vacation days a year and is allowed to work from home because she is handicapped. However, the UCIA has another office located in the county administration building where two other employees work. Bills for that two-man office include a $2,348 Verizon phone and internet service bill for 2012.
DeFilippo, according to information obtained from the Local Finance Board, oversees two employees, a projects/events manager earning $79,536 and a project financial specialist making $80,080 a year.
A 2012 UCIA Profit and Loss statement obtained by LocalSource indicated that the county subsidizes the UCIA with $600,000 annually but the authority also brings in an additional $2.6 million in revenue, including $1.3 million from Park Madison, a complex built by the UCIA in Plainfield.
Expenses, though, are not high, tallying well below the income generated. However, the profit-and-loss statement for 2012 noted that with debt service, salaries and wages of $311,585, $125,903 in professional services, other legal services of $16,113 for the Park Madison site, and close to $500,000 in administrative fees for other projects, the UCIA only netted $1.6 in revenue.
Williams, who works for DeCotiis Fitzpatrick law firm, was paid $88,232 in 2012 for his services, according to the UCIA’s profit-and-loss statement. The firm is also listed on the statement as having been paid $1,026,769 in 2012.
In addition, there are “administrative fees” listed for other projects totaling $438,684, including for the new Prosecutor’s Office improvements, Union County Court House, Linden redevelopment, Linden Library, Linden Airport and the Linden Theatre. The highest administrative fee in 2012 was for the Union County Family Court House improvement project at $103,906.