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The Republican Party is trying to make an issue of a salary adjustment that was made with respect to an employee who is employed by the Town of Phillipsburg.  After evaluation by the Town Business Administrator in conjunction with the New Jersey Civil Service, the position that was Confidential Secretary to the Mayor was upgraded to Confidential Aide to the Mayor.  New Jersey Civil Service Commission advised and provided data and information that was used in determining the adjusted salary and the adjusted position. This page will explain the reason behind the salary adjustment, and other background information relevant to this issue.

The prior salary for the Confidential Secretary to the Mayor position was $45,000.  The adjusted salary for the Confidential Aide to the Mayor position is $53,000.  This upgrade of job title and salary were determined by the functions the position performs, along with input from the New Jersey Civil Service Commission and research compiled from comparable NJ towns to Phillipsburg.

In summary, here are a couple of bullet points regarding the issue.  If you click on the highlighted text in the bullet points, it will take you to relevant documentation in regards to the topic.  As much as possible, when you click on one of the bullet points and go into the weeds, documentation to support various assertions will be provided.

  • The position of a private secretary to the Mayor has existed for many years under different Mayors prior to the administration of the current Mayor.  Gloria Decker, Tom Corcoran and Harry Wyant all had what were essentially private secretaries in their tenures. When the current Mayor hired a Confidential Secretary, a title given to him by the Town Clerk, this was essentially the same job title that existed before for the previous private secretaries that were previously employed. The salary for this secretarial position in 2007 was $48,000.  When the UEZ workload lessened due to defunding by the state, that UEZ secretarial person did some secretarial work for the former Mayor along with other duties related to the UEZ wind-down. This  continued up until Mayor Ellis took office, at which time Mayor Ellis hired his own Confidential Secretary in March of 2016 after conducting interviews for the position. Mrs. Corcoran was hired for the Confidential Secretary position and came to this position with over 30 years of experience.
  • The $8,000 increase in pay for the Confidential Aide to the Mayor was a salary adjustment due to a change in position, and not a raise.
  • The Confidential Aide classification, which is a higher classification than a secretarial position, was determined from the job description of what the position is required to perform and in conjunction with the New Jersey Civil Service Commission.
  • The salary adjustment and the upgrade to the position from Confidential Secretary to Confidential Aide to the Mayor was approved by the Republican controlled Town Council. In fact, this was approved on multiple occasions by the Republican controlled Town Council.
  • The Republicans are being very hypocritical regarding the salary adjustment, and clearly using  the salary adjustment to trying to create a spurious political issue. In 2015, all the current Republican members of Town Council voted for $31,538 worth of raises and salary increases for just two employees. 
    • In 2015, the last year the previous Republican Mayor held office, the previous Republican Mayor and the Republican controlled Town Council, which contained all the current Republican members of the Town Council,voted for a salary increase of $21,638 for an employee who performs the Municipal Clerk duties due to a title change, similar to the situation for the salary change to the Confidential Aide.  For the Municipal Clerk, the title went from Acting Municipal Clerk to Municipal Clerk, and the salary went from $78,261 to $99,899. The salary adjustment for the Municipal Clerk position was 27+%. The actual salary percentage increase, relative to the Confidential Aide position is [ ((99,899 - 78,261)/8000) -1 ] * 100 = 170+% greater than the increase given for the salary adjustment for the Confidential Aide.
    • In 2015, Mayor Wyant and all the current Republican members of Town Council voted for a raise for the Chief Financial Officer of $9,900. The Chief Financial Officer's salary went from $107,100 to $117,000. The salary adjustment for the Chief Financial Officer position was 9.2+%. The actual salary percentage increase, relative to the Confidential Aide position is [((117,000 - 107,100)/8000) -1] * 100 = 23+% greater than the increase given for the salary adjustment for the Confidential Aide.
    • Links are provided here for you to see the 2015 salaries and the 2016 salaries, both of which were set by the previous Republican administration, prior to Mayor Ellis taking office.

Details (into the weeds)

When Mayor Ellis took office, there were only job descriptions for a very few individuals in the town hall.  The individuals that had job descriptions were those individuals whose jobs legally had to have job descriptions.  The four positions that are legally required to have job descriptions are the Town Clerk, Chief Financial Officer, Tax Collector and Tax Assessor.

So, the Town Hall was basically an organization devoid of any semblance of having a structured Human Resources presence.  There were essentially no job descriptions for employees and no organization chart.  There is no way to evaluate employees, at least without great legal peril since if there is no job description upon which to base an evaluation.  When the Mayor wanted to hire a new employee, or replace an employee who has left, with no job description there is no way to objectively evaluate if employees are a good match for a given position, or if the position that you are hiring for is the correct position.  Usually, most organizations have an Human Resources specialist or Human Resources Department to document and handle job descriptions, assist to make sure the evaluation process follow correct practices and many other functions to make sure things are done legally and fairly.

In March of 2016, Ordinance 2016-01 amended Ordinance 2015-20, and this amendment established the position of Confidential Secretary.  At the time Mayor Ellis created this position, Mayor Ellis had no Human Resources person, had no Business Administrator, and no way to determine what the actual classification of what the job should be.

The Confidential Secretary was hired on March 21, 2016.  At the time of the hiring of the Confidential Secretary, there did not exist an active Phillipsburg Democratic Committee.  There have been rumors that Sherry Corcoran was hired because she was the Vice Chair of the Phillipsburg Democratic Committee.  This would be pretty amazing, and is also not true, since the Phillipsburg Democratic Committee did not come into existence until after she was hired.

In May of 2016, the Phillipsburg Democratic Committee came into existence.  At this time, Sherry Corcoran was voted in as Vice Chair by the 22 members of the Phillipsburg Democratic Committee.  Sherry Corcoran was most likely selected as Vice Chair for many of the same reasons she was selected for the position of Confidential Secretary to the Mayor, she is very effective and very good at accomplishing goals and objectives.

As time went on, the Confidential Aide accepted more responsibilities and the job grew in terms of responsibilities.

Also, after June of 2016, the newly hired Business Administrator worked on creating some structure for positions within the town.  The Business Administrator worked on creating an organizational chart, job descriptions, and evaluating jobs and job titles.  The Business Administrator contacted New Jersey Civil Service Commission.  New Jersey Civil Service requires a title for all positions within the town.  Based on the information from a New Jersey Civil Service evaluation, the positions and titles were established.  Additionally, the Business Administrator conducted research, with assistance from the New Jersey Civil Service Commission, from comparable towns to Phillipsburg.

The Confidential Aide position and Confidential Aide salary were presented in the 2017 budget based on the New Jersey Civil Service information.

Around March, the budget was presented to the Town Council.  The Confidential Aide to the Mayor position with the salary based on the input from the New Jersey Civil Service Commission were both explicitly part of this budget that was presented. Council President Tersigni even made it a point to shake Mrs. Corcoran's hand and inform her that "I am going to vote to approve your salary" after receiving and reviewing the budget.

In May, every councilman approved the budget.  The budget explicitly had the description and salary of the Confidential Aide position.

At the meeting at Sullivans-on-the-main, the Councilmen all voted yes for the first reading of the salary ordinance.  The salary ordinance defined ranges for the salaries of the employees within the town.  After a tabling of the second reading, it was requested that Mayor Ellis meet with 2 members of the Council to review the salaries.  After numerous meetings with the Mayor and Councilmen, the second reading of the salary ordinance which set salary ranges was passed.

In order for the 2017 salaries to be officially approved, and employees to receive their 2017 salaries, it was necessary that a resolution be passed to set the salaries.  The agenda for the Town Council meetings is basically set by the Town Council President.  The Town Council President, Todd Tersigni, would not put the salary resolutions up to vote.  Then Council President instructed the Town Attorney to write individual resolutions for each 2017 salary.  The resolutions were tabled for one more "final" review by the Councilmen and the Mayor.

Eventually, Council would untable the resolution for the salaries, but Council President Tersigni omitted a couple of salaries from the public agenda.  My understanding is that the Town Clerk wrote the omitted salaries back into the agenda that the Town Council members had at the dais.  Most, or all, of the audience did not have on the resolutions that Mr. Tersigni did not want to discuss on their public agendas.  Another Councilman raised a point of order, and pointed out that it was not appropriate nor correct to  unilaterally omit an agenda item without the consent of two thirds of Council.  In spite of the fact that the Town Attorney indicated to Mr. Tersigni that he could not perform this action, he did not proceed to allow a vote on the Confidential Aide resolution.  The meeting ended up being adjourned prematurely.

In the following meeting, on October 3, 2017, the resolution regarding the salary and upgraded Confidential Aide position was voted on.  The Councilmen Davis, Fey and Lutz voted "yes" for resolution R-2017-186 which approved the salary adjustment and the Confidential Aide position.

In conclusion, the Republicans are taking what is a standard salary adjustment and position upgrade and trying to make it appear to be an act of greed by the Democratic Mayor.  There are a number of reasons that support the conclusion that the actions of the Republicans are nothing but an attempt to create a spurious political smear campaign, and they are as follows:

  • The Republican Town Council President continually tabled and delayed the vote on the salary resolution for the Confidential Aide until right before the election. He clearly pushed off the vote so that he could try to get the maximum political effect from the spurious salary upgrade issue for the Republicans
  • Throughout various portions of the process, all the Town Councilmen, both Republican and Democratic, agreed with, and supported, the upgrade of the position to Confidential Aide. Only when they thought they could make political fodder by saying they disagreed with the upgrade did they then voice any objections regarding the upgrade.
  • In the past, the currently serving Republican Councilmen all voted for raises and salary adjustments that were much larger than the $8000 salary adjustment for the Confidential Aide position. In fact, the three currently serving Republican Town Councilmen voted in 2015 for one pay increase that was 170% larger than the pay increase for the salary adjustment for the Confidential Aide position.