By Ron Leir
NORTH ARLINGTON –
Democrat Peter Norcia may have lost his bid to reclaim his seat on the Borough Council in last month’s election but the Dems majority made it up to him by voting Dec. 12 to appoint him as the borough’s public works superintendent.
The tally went along party lines: Democrats Al Granell, Mark Yampaglia and Tom Zammatore voted for the measure, Republicans Rich Hughes, Joe Bianchi and newly-elected Dan Pronti (who took Norcia’s seat) voted against it, and Mayor Peter Massa, a Democrat, voted “yes” to break the tie.
As councilman, Norcia drew a yearly salary of about $7,300 but in his new job, he’ll earn 10 times as much at $79,000.
The Democrats noted that the DPW pay scale is actually about $24,000 less than what Norcia’s predecessor, Jim McCabe, was making. Plus, they said, Norcia won’t be taking any medical benefits, which means the borough will be “saving another $20,000 for taxpayers.”
McCabe is retiring from the DPW job Dec. 31 and Norcia will start work on New Year’s Day.
Mayor Peter Massa defended the hiring, pointing to Norcia’s prior experience managing 300 employees and building operations at AT&T Worldwide’s 2.7 million square feet Basking Ridge headquarters, plus more than a decade with ISS Worldwide Corp. as a facility manager.
“I think the borough is fortunate to have a person of Mr. Norcia’s background and skill level to run the day to day operations of our public works department,” Massa said. “I’m sure he’s up to the task and I expect to see good results from the department under his supervision.”
But Hughes told The Observer that Norcia’s work experience, however impressive it may sound, “is not the same as public works.” (As DPW boss, Norcia will supervise a department with nine employees responsible for maintenance of streets, shade trees, public buildings, parks and playgrounds, and storm and sanitary sewer lines.)
Moreover, Hughes said, Republicans opposed Norcia’s hiring because “we did not feel it was an open process. There were 19 who applied, including four from the current DPW, all qualified. How many were interviewed? We felt it was a political award.”
Although the state Civil Service Commission lists the job title, superintendent of public works, as an “unclassified” position – meaning that no competitive exam is required – Hughes said his understanding is that under Civil Service rules, “there are several classes you have to take to continue in that position” that would lead to securing certification as a Certified Public Works Manager.
As for the savings that the Democrats said would be realized from Norcia’s lower rate of pay (McCabe is currently earning about $100,000 after 35 years with the borough), Hughes shrugged that off, saying that Norcia’s salary “is what Jim McCabe was making after 25 years [with the borough].”
Another issue that rankled Hughes was a provision in Norcia’s three-year contract that accords the new superintendent the right to take a 180-day paid severance if things don’t work out in the new job. “Most administrators don’t get a deal like that,” he griped.
Hughes asked for, and got, a vote to amend the provision to a 90-day severance but, again, it was defeated by a 4-3 margin on a partisan basis. Hughes said there may be other perks in the contract but he said he hasn’t yet seen a copy. “I’m still waiting to get it from the borough attorney,” he said.
Norcia was appointed to the Borough Council in early 2013 to replace Steve Tanelli, who was elected to the Bergen County Board of Freeholders in November 2012.