Fab 5 (now Static 6) strike yet again, this time rejecting raises for several longtime town employees, including fire chief, while also refusing to pay mayor’s aid

The Fab 5 — recently renamed the Static Six since they have a new addition and are known to be clung to each other most of the time like socks fresh out of a clothes dryer — but who are back to the Fab 5 this week because one councilman was absent last week — struck again and this time, there are some who believe their actions are not only personal, but downright mean.

At a special meeting of the Kearny Mayor and Town Council Wednesday, Dec. 27 to close out 2023, the Fab 5 voted to forego giving raises to several town employees who were all but guaranteed the raises by Chief Financial Officer Shuaib Firozvi and Town Administrator Stephen Marks.

By a vote of 5-3, the new band rejected small raises for Town Clerk Patricia Carpenter, Fire Chief Joseph Mastandrea, Recreation Director Ralph Cattafi and they also chose to continue not to pay Mayoral Aid Lyla DeCastro the $32,000 annual stipend she agreed to accept — for the first time ever — to serve in a dual role (hardly unprecedented) along with being the Assistant Town Clerk.

A little background first

Just five months ago, after former interim Mayor Peter P. Santana fired DeCastro without notice or cause, and who had already been serving as the unpaid aid to former Mayor Alberto G. Santos, he replaced her with a full-time employee, Vanessa DaCruz, who was paid an hourly salary that amounted to nearly $56,000 annually, plus benefits, based on a normal work week over 52 weeks.

When this happened, DaCruz got her new job without any member of the council having a chance to vote on it. But that’s because the position of mayoral aid has always been one of mayoral appointment without the advice and consent of the rest of the governing body.

So, in other words, it was and still fully is at the sitting mayor’s discretion as to who serves as her or his aid.

Now fast forward five months and Third Ward Councilwoman Eileen Eckel says she has concerns over the kind of work DeCastro would need to perform (even if she’s already been doing the exact same thing for nearly two decades), and despite Mayor Carol Jean Doyle clearly having explained those parameters at the meeting. (Eckel had demanded an explanation as to how DeCastro could work two concurrent jobs.)

“She would be in the mayor’s office in the morning and then would go to the clerk’s office,” Doyle explained rather succinctly. “She would then be with me, in the mayor’s office, after 5:30 p.m., and as needed at night and on the weekends. When she was in the clerk’s office, when the mayor’s office’s phone rang, it forwards to Lyla’s desk, so at no point were the calls not being tended to.

“Her job duties were exactly as they were under former Mayor Santos. And the councilwoman knows this. But what is fair is fair — Lyla believes there is value to her work, and there is great value to her work, and she deserves to be paid for that work. Apparently, Councilwoman Eckel forgot this and thinks she knows better.”

Despite Eckel’s concern DeCastro is performing two jobs at Town Hall, there are many examples of precedence — numerous current and former employees in other departments serve multiple paid roles. Some of those include Firozvi, who is the Chief Financial Officer and Tax Collector; Marks who is the Town Administrator and Urban Enterprise Zone Coordinator; and the recently retired John Peneda, who served as UEZ Coordinator and Tax Assessor for many years with an unblemished record.

In all of the aforementioned roles, those employees were paid for all the work they performed. They know how to perform their duties. And frankly, in all cases, they performed or still perform well in each of these roles. So why is it now Eckel and the rest of the Fab 5 find fault with DeCastro being paid for work she’s done, heretofore unpaid?

It’s simple, Doyle says.

“What upsets me the most is Councilwoman Eckel touts that we’re working in unity when it is her actions that are causing this disunity,” the mayor said. “She says she’s doing what she thinks is best for the community when she knows she isn’t. She challenged these raises and knew very well why they were coming and that they were deserved. In all fairness, when the raises came up before, she never questioned the Town Administrator or the CFO, but now she does it. Eileen is clearly nitpicking at Lyla and Pat (Carpenter) and it is extremely mean-spirited.”

One other person found fault with Eckel’s actions at the meeting — resident Alexis Sheridan, who rose to speak at the public portion of the meeting. Sheridan says she’s growing  fatigued of the local antics that remind her of Washington, D.C., where the White House is ruled by the Democrats and the U.S. House is governed by the GOP — and where nothing concrete gets done.

Only difference is in Kearny, Sheridan noted, is here, they’re all Democrats.

“I am a little confused. I am a little naïve about all the stuff that goes on here but I’m confused. We’re back to the mayor’s aid. Former interim Mayor Santana hired a full timer when he was a part-time mayor. I mean and no discussion was made on that. It seems a little odd, I have to be honest with you. I think I’m in Congress where we have a President and a Republican Congress. A Democratic president. I don’t like all of this nonsense going on,” Sheridan said. “You were elected to vote and take care of the people of Kearny not your Democrats and your cohorts. It feels like there’s a little clique going on here and I as a taxpayer don’t like it.

“I think there’s something not right here but I think you really need to rethink what your position is as a council person. It’s not always about an argument. We have had the (assistant) clerk she was a clerk and mayor’s aid for years and there was no problem, ex-Mayor Santana hired a full-time aid when he was a part-timer and now we we’re going back to the aid and now there’s a discussion of what her job is — I mean you people have been here, some of you have, but some of you have been up here on the council you know what her job is, and what she does, so I would like the arguments and the nonsense to stop and start acting for the people of Kearny.”

It was at this point Eckel interjected and said she was, indeed, working for the people.

“I’d like to just address that if you don’t mind just because I’m the person who brought it up.” Eckel said. “So when former Mayor Santana hired the aid she was was paid by the hour and she didn’t work any other jobs in town so she worked only as the mayor’s aid. In the past when there was a mayor’s aid in the mayor’s office that person prior to the current mayor’s aid only had another job in the town as well, right, so that person worked as a mayor’s aid and that was the job.

“And now we have a salary that’s been introduced onto the table organization that isn’t that is new right, so my question was if it’s one person doing two jobs at the same time, how do I explain that to town? How do I explain that to a person who asked me the question and I needed to know the answer.”

The only part missing here, however, was DeCastro has long performed dual roles as mayoral aid and clerk — she just hasn’t ever been paid for the former.

Learn more about the writer ...

Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.