Earlier this year, as lawyers for the state of New Jersey were pushing Atlantic City’s police and firefighters toward pay and job cuts, a state authority in the city was quietly handing out thousands of dollars in back pay and salaries to members of its own board.
The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) in January and February paid out $65,500 to its chairman and two board members and began to pay them a regular monthly salary, according to payroll details obtained through an open records request by Route 40.
Eight CRDA board members who were appointed by Governor Chris Christie now collect a salary for work related to their once-a-month board meetings at the Authority’s Atlantic City office. Those board members now receive higher salaries than about a dozen of the Authority’s own maintenance staff who work from 6 am to 2 pm seven days a week, nine months of the year and do not receive benefits.
The payments came as Atlantic City and its residents grapple with another year of higher taxes and lower tax revenue, as well as a state takeover that is now playing out in court, as lawyers for the state take a hard line on salaries and benefits paid to the city’s police and firefighters. The city’s unemployment rate remains well above the state’s average and more than one third of the population lives in poverty.
CRDA itself reduced its full-time staff by 15 percent in March, citing financial stress. The cuts were necessary because almost one third of the Authority’s funding was redirected to the city last year, Executive Director Chris Howard said in a statement. (Howard earns $175,000 a year, but that salary is a 22-percent pay cut from the $225,000 his predecessor John Palmieri received.)
The Authority’s board is made up of executive-branch appointees, casino executives and state representatives and includes one lone woman among a page of white male faces. CRDA has broad responsibilities for everything from planning and zoning to street cleaning and tree pruning in the city’s Tourism District. The Authority also owns swathes of vacant land in the cash-strapped city, without paying taxes.
The board salaries of $18,000 a year for members and $23,000 a year for the chairman are permitted for appointees who are not government staffers or casino executives under CRDA’s rules and regulations:
But it is not clear why board members Gary Hill and Howard Kyle, along with Chairman Robert Mulcahy, decided to accept one year in back pay plus their stipend entitlement earlier this year, after going without pay for most of their time on the board.
Hill, Mulcahy and CRDA spokeswoman Karen Martin did not respond to requests for comment last week.
Kyle, who is chief of staff for the Atlantic County government, said he was offered the stipend after a review of the board compensation guidelines. When asked about the context of the board-member payouts coming shortly before the Authority made a round of layoffs, he said, “It is unfortunate about the layoffs, it’s unfortunate timing….It was a difficult thing to do.”
Members of CRDA’s maintenance team, before the layoffs, attended a board meeting in February to draw the board’s attention to the fact that they do not receive benefits and, after years with no raise, had been offered the equivalent of 28 cents an hour. “We’re labeled as state workers, but we’re not state workers, we don’t get the state pension,” said Al Townsend. The maintenance staff earn $11 an hour. CRDA chairman Mulcahy, who receives a state pension worth $13,533.21 each month, told the workers that the public meeting was not the appropriate place to negotiate their salaries, but said that the board appreciated their work and was sympathetic to their situation.
Six CRDA board members, including Mulcahy, Kyle and Hill, were nominated for reappointment by Governor Chris Christie at the end of February, subject to the advice and consent of the state senate. The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
One of the first actions taken by the governor’s takeover emissary in Atlantic City, the $400-an-hour Jeffrey Chiesa, was to veto $3,000 end-of-year bonuses that the city’s water authority had awarded its board members. Chiesa’s view on the CRDA bonuses is not clear: a spokeswoman for the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) said that since CRDA is not a local government authority, its compensation issues are outside of the purview of the DCA.