County puts focus on economic development

Reorganization of departments sees Parks and Community Renewal eliminated

UNION COUNTY — The Union County Freeholders recently reorganized several departments, using the new deputy county manager’s experience in economic development as a foundation for one of these changes.

County Manager Al Faella briefly explained why the county made this change.
“We are taking this opportunity to streamline departments and divisions to enhance efficiency and maximize existing personnel,” he said in a statement. “The reorganization allows us to examine the operations of each department and evaluate its performance to ultimately best utilize all our resources and provide the best possible services to the residents of Union County.”

Freeholder Chairman Chris Hudak clarified the county manager’s statement in an interview late last week pointing out that Faella had been working toward making changes in the county departmental structure for more than a year. This was all capable of moving forward when the county hired a deputy county manager.

“A lot of Al’s expertise is in economic development so when he approached us last fall to bring in Bill Reyes to fill a dual role of deputy county manager and also head up economic development for the county, we agreed it was a good move,” the freeholder board chairman said.

Reyes, 39, was brought quietly aboard in November at an annual salary of $133,980. The former director of Planning and Community Development for Elizabeth filled the position of deputy county manager that had been vacant since Elizabeth Genievich retired in early 2012.

While working for Elizabeth, Reyes was responsible for the management of the Economic Development Department, which Hudak said would serve the county well in the future.

Among Reyes accomplishments in the area of economic development was acquiring $40 million in state funding for the renovation and reconstruction of the midtown Elizabeth train station and the management of the Community Block Grant program and distribution of $3 million in funding.

As deputy county manager he will now be responsible for helping Faella manage the 2,900 fulltime county employees while balancing that with heading up economic development efforts. However, this was not what LocalSource was told when Reyes was brought aboard.

When interviewed about this in late November, neither Reyes nor Faella revealed that the deputy county manager would be involved with economic development. In fact, Reyes said he would be focusing on helping the county manager execute control over policy development. Shortly afterward the county introduced plans to reorganize the two departments giving Reyes more control over economic development.

In order to facilitate this, Hudak explained, the county had to reorganize two departments, eliminating the Department of Parks and Community Renewal and forming the Department of Economic Development.

“It just made more sense,” Hudak added, noting that one of his initiatives for 2014 is to work on the county infrastructure. However, the freeholder chairman said the county wanted to move forward in “a systematic way.”

In order to do that, he said, the county had to move the entire engineering department into the newly formed economic development department. There was a reason for this, and it all revolves around money.

“The economic development department will also be responsible for obtaining grants, which we can use to augment improvements,” he added.

As for what this is going to cost taxpayers, Hudak said other than bringing Reyes aboard, no one received an increase in salary as a result of switching departments around.

Another change that came about concerned the fact that the people who maintained the parks were in the Public Works Department and that was not working out. According to Hudak, the parks were not getting the attention needed so the county decided to move the division of parks maintenance to the Parks Department.

“I give the county manager a lot of credit for this because sometimes the structure doesn’t work, but you try to cut with a scalpel, not an ax,” Hudak quipped.

“I think the board is very confident in the moves we made, because it best illustrates how we want to move in a more cohesive direction,” the freeholder chairman explained.

Although Hudak said no one received any increases in salary as a result of this change, according to information obtained through the Open Public Records Act, there was one change that included a salary increase.

The county changed a “confidential assistant” position in the Planning and Community Development Department to an “office services manager” and assistant to the deputy county manager, increasing the salary from $79,446 to $82,552, or $3,243. This was effective Nov. 12, the same day Reyes started as deputy manager.