Finance Board OKs college project, reiterates criticism of since-resigned director

TRENTON – The Local Finance Board recommended approval of a $15 million request today for a Union County Improvement Authority project it withheld a decision on last month.

Since that time, the authority’s Executive Director, Charlotte DeFilippo, who was the target of strong criticism from board Chairman Thomas Neff, has resigned.

The project is for a building at Union County Community College, Cranford, a student services building project that would encompass a total of 36,000 square feet, about 25,000 of it new.

But Neff said last month it was not the project itself that drew the criticism, but rather what Neff considered DeFilippo’s high salary of $120,000 plus perks while overseeing a staff of only two personnel.

At the same meeting in April, Neff also raised similar concerns regarding applications from two other entities – the Middlesex County Improvement Authority and North Bergen.  The MCIA application was approved at the meeting, and the North Bergen application was eventually approved later by way of a telephone conference after the board received additional information it had requested.

At today’s meeting, Neff rejected DeFilippo’s remarks that his statements were politically motivated. In the past, he said, the board had threatened subpoenas against Republican mayors over projects.

“I continue to believe that the pay structure of that executive director is inappropriate,” he said.

He said there was no indication that there was an appropriate tracking of her vacation or sick time. He said that in February she was paid for 10 vacation days for which he doubted time would yet have been accrued. In time, she will accrue them, but he said other employees could not enjoy such an arrangement of being paid for vacation days ahead of time.

In addition, she has accumulated 200 sick days, which Neff said raised a red flag, but the authority counsel, Jonathan Williams, said she only will be paid for what county-state policy allows.

Neff also said that when DeFilippo was on the finance board, she attended only seven of 28 meetings.

Williams said the authority has responded to some of the issues raised by the finance board and provided to the board a long list of projects completed under budget and ahead of schedule.

He said the authority is still compiling records regarding employees’ sick time the board requested.

Two witnesses testified against the college project. John Bury and Jim Buettner both said the project is unnecessary, burdens taxpayers, and is designed to generate fees for politically connected allies.

Bury sought to testify about the law firm of DeCotiis, Fitzpatrick and Cole and millions of dollars in fees he said they have been paid down through the years for various projects, but board members Jamie Fox and Idida Rodriguez interrupted, told him to stick to the project at hand and avoid discussing generalities.

Williams, in turn, defended the firm’s work and the transparency of the entire process. He said the college initiated this project and sees it as necessary.

Authority and college officials described the project as an overdue consolidation of services and updating of facilities built in the 1950s or 1960s.

Finance Board OKs college project, reiterates criticism of since-resigned director