New mayor wants to give running mate a job as economic development director

File Photo New Linden Mayor Derek Armstead is hoping to give his losing running mate a job as economic development director.
File Photo
New Linden Mayor Derek Armstead is hoping to give his losing running mate a job as economic development director.

LINDEN, NJ – Mayor Derek Armstead wants to bring aboard Rich Puschel, the former county police department employee who took home a county generator during Superstorm Sandy, as the city’s Economic Development Director and pay him to do it.

Puschel, a former Linden councilman from 2008 to 2011 and county police department employee for 32 years, was on the hot seat last year for taking home a large generator and giving out two smaller ones to two county employees without permission from his superiors.

While Puschel was the focus of an administrative hearing last spring, it is unknown what the final result of the hearing was, or if any punishment was invoked. Puschel did retire from his county position following the hearing but Tuesday county officials were unable to verify whether he was told to retire or that he made the decision on his own.

The former councilman and county employee again appeared in the spotlight during this period of time when Armstead selected him as a running mate for city council president last year, directly opposing the Democrat primary slate. When Democrat candidate George Alvarez won the primary race, he became Armstead’s running mate in the fall election.

But while the two ran on the Democratic line, party members made it clear Armstead was not a party player and support was superficial, at best.

According to sources, it surfaced several weeks ago that Armstead wanted to give Puschel the economic development position, but it was not until late last week that the city announced there would be a special conference meeting Monday to discuss the Linden Economic Development Corporation budget along with the 2015 city budget.

Although it was expected that Armstead would ask council members to approve a $20,000 to $35,000 budget for the EDC at this meeting, at the last minute, Armstead said he would not be able to attend the meeting, pulling the request for the LEDC budget from the two item agenda.

It is not unusual for the director of the LEDC to be paid. In fact, under former mayor Rich Gerbounka, Ron Stefanowitz held the position for years, working approximately 21 hours a week and earning a $44,000 salary for the effort, according to the 2013 non-profit tax form submitted by John Miliano, who took over for Stefanowicz when he stepped down.

According to the tax form, the LEDC received non-profit status based on the fact it normally receives a substantial part of its support from a governmental unit or from the general public.

According to the 2013 tax form submitted by Miliano, in 2011 and 2012 the LEDC took in $65,000 in gifts, grants or contributions, while in 2013 that amount dropped to $35,000.

The LEDC director’s seat has been empty since Armstead became mayor, with little indication of who would be appointed to the position.

In 2011, the LEDC commissioned a Linden Vision Plan, by the Rutgers Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. The 157-page report delved deeply into sustainable planning with limited resources, short term and long term priorities, analysis of current conditions and trends and a discussion of possible strategies.

During the time Gerbounka was mayor and Stefanowiz held the position of LEDC director, the city tackled many economic development projects including the Tremley Point Connector Road, which was expected to significantly reduce heavy truck volume in the Tremley Point residential area.

The 57-acre former General Motors site on Route 1 remains the single largest development project on the burner. Although mired in legal red tape for several years, when the project is built there will be 43 acres of retail and 2.5 acres of residential development. The city should realize $5.2 million in tax ratables as a result.

The latest venture, Linden Commons, on the old Kmart site, is now open, with retail businesses and restaurants such as TJ Maxx, Sprint, Kay Jewelers and Buffalo Wild Wings as tenants.

The city also took on Goodwin Birtcher two years ago, which is a $2.7 million warehousing development on a superfund site. The 26-acre project is expected to be cleaned in the next year or two, with an expected 2,000 to 3,000 warehouse jobs available.

The city was also deeply involved in redeveloping the area around the train station, which was suggested as an important move in the vision plan. The plan was to develop an urban design for Wood Avenue that attracted shoppers and promoted Linden’s assets and heritage.

Gerbounka and former Roselle mayor Jamel Holley had also teamed to promote and see built a block long Justice Center fronting St. George Avenue. Armstead was not in favor of this multi-million dollar proposed project and with Holley and Gerbounka no longer in the mayor’s seats, it is unknown if this project that would have housed police and courts for both municipalities will move forward in the future.

Although Armstead has been in the mayor’s seat for several months, he has not indicated what his economic development vision is for the city, or exactly what Puschel would do as director of the LEDC.