Home Events + News Hoboken City Council Approves 3-Year Contract for Police Chief, Ending Weeks of Debate

Hoboken City Council Approves 3-Year Contract for Police Chief, Ending Weeks of Debate

by Matthew Cunningham
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Hoboken City Council approved Hoboken Police Chief Ken Ferrante’s three-year contract at Wednesday’s City Council meeting. The unanimous vote {9-0} ended weeks of heated debate over the contract’s terms. Under the new contract, Ferrante will make $211,000 by 2022.

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Mayor Ravi Bhalla said in a tweet that he was thrilled that Hoboken City Council approved Ferrante’s contract. Bhalla said, “Under his leadership, the PD has taken major steps forward to keep Hoboken safe & increase the quality of life for all of our residents, & I have no doubt this progress will continue for years to come. I thank the Council for the unanimous support for Chief Ferrante & the Dept.”

In the past few weeks, Ferrante’s contract has been at the center of a heated debate surrounding the police chief’s salary, contract length, and benefits. Earlier this month, Hoboken City Council approved a shorter contract for the police chief that would last until 2021 instead of 2022, along with a cut in his total vacation days from 30 to 25. But backlash over the shorter contract prompted Hoboken City Council to reconsider the contract’s terms.

At the Meeting

At Wednesday’s meeting, the city council members voted unanimously to approve Police Chief Ferrante’s contract, after some councilmembers expressed support for Police Chief Ferrante and remorse for conduct at the previous City Council meeting.

Prior to the vote, Emily Jabbour, an at-large city council member, said, “It’s really unfortunate the way Chief Ferrante was treated in this last meeting because the comments that were made essentially questioned his record. He has six years of service to the city. He is one of the most valuable team members to the city. We owe it to the outstanding people in our city to support them, and I’m hopeful that most of the council this evening will now support the contract as originally proposed on this agenda last meeting.”

In response, Jennifer Giattino, the City Council President, said, “I didn’t recall anyone saying derogatory or negative about Chief Ferrante. It was questions about the contract. I’m hoping everyone on this council would ask questions about contracts. I’m completely supportive of Chief Ferrente, and I always have been.”

Phil Cohen, the fifth ward city council member, said, “It’s my understanding that it’s the council’s role when it comes to negotiating contracts with the heads of public safety, for us to vote them up or down—not for us to essentially be at the table negotiating terms, which is not appropriate. And while you’re correct, Council President, that there was nothing said about Chief Ferrante in a derogatory way. But the inevitable result of what this council did at the last meeting was to put his contract up for public discussion. It’s what happened on Twitter. It’s what happened on press releases. And it’s unfair to an excellent public servant.”

Seeking a New Contract

The debate over the police chief’s contract began earlier this month. Police Chief Ken Ferrante told the Hoboken City Council on July 2 that he was seeking a three-year contract extension. His most recent agreement with the city expired on December 31st, 2019.

On July 10, Hoboken City Council approved Ferrante’s contract, after making some amendments. While reviewing the contract, Tiffanie Fisher, the second ward city councilmember, said, “I’d like to make a recommendation to make a couple minor changes … one is to change the termination date from 2022 to 2021 and the second would be to decrease the increase from vacation [days] from 30 days to 25 days.”

Hoboken City Council voted to approve the amended contract, by a vote of 6-2-1, with two at-large city councilmembers, Emily Jabbour and James Doyle, voting no. Phil Cohen, the fifth ward city councilmember, was present but abstained from voting.

To explain the renegotiated contract terms, Fisher said she felt the police chief’s contract “should be a shorter term, potentially co-terminus with the mayor, and […] the increase in vacation [days] seems fairly high.”

The Backlash to the Renegotiated Contract

Shortly after the vote, Vijay Chaudhuri, the mayor’s Communications Director, told the Hudson County View that Mayor Ravi Bhalla opposed Hoboken’s City Council’s decision to negotiate the contract’s terms and urged the Council to approve a longer contract.

Chaudhuri said, “Over the past 6 years, the Hoboken Police Department has been a model for modern policing under Chief Ferrante. Under his leadership, Hoboken has seen a substantial reduction in crime in virtually all categories, expanded community policing and outreach, had no complaints against officers for excessive force, and most recently, has kept residents safe throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”

On July 11, the day following the vote, Ferrante sent an email to Hoboken City Council and the Bhalla administration, giving them four choices as to what he would like to happen with his contract:

1. Approve the contract as agreed upon in January 2020.
2. Grant my contractually obligated raise from December 1st, 2019, retroactive, and I will sign the council amended contract as presented at the July 8th meeting.
3. Collectively, decide on compensation that you feel is appropriate for me comparative to the salaries of other Hudson County chiefs and make a proposal.
4. Let me know if you want to go in a different direction and I will certainly apply for my retirement and take my work product and reputation to another employer, public or private.

Two days before the Council meeting, Mayor Ravi Bhalla asked the Hoboken City Council to approve Police Chief Ken Ferrante’s contract. In the letter sent on Monday, Bhalla said he hoped the vote would be unanimous, citing the Police Chief’s record and qualifications.

“Through his six years as Police Chief, Chief Ferrante has distinguished himself as, in my opinion, one of, if not the best Chiefs in the entire tri-state area,” Bhalla wrote in the letter. “He has been our crucial partner in keeping our City safe, and even more so now during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, during which he had been on duty for 92/95 days (without overtime, for which he is ineligible for).”

Bhalla said it would be “a major blow” if Hoboken City Council voted against renewing Ferrante’s contract, saying that the police chief chose to renegotiate the terms of his contract despite having the option to “comfortably retire” with full pension. “He wishes to remain in his position because of his passion for his profession and love for the city in which he was born and raised,” Bhalla said.

The mayor also responded to the Hoboken City Council decision to cut the police chief’s five vacation days and reduce his term from three to two years. Councilmember Fisher said this decision was to possibly sync the police chief’s contract with local elections.

“I strongly reject the proposal that law enforcement should have any connection with politics or elections,” Bhalla said.  “This argument unnecessarily politicizes the Chief’s contract, ignores the fact that the City Council approved the current Fire Chief’s contract that lasts until 2023, two years after the next Mayoral election and, by contrast, provides $60,000 annually less than current Fire Battalion Chiefs.”

Leading Up to Wednesday’s Vote

The night before Hoboken City Council decided whether or not to renew Ferrante’s contract, the police chief clashed on Twitter with Tiffanie Fisher, the second ward city councilmember who spearheaded the shorter contract. Fisher criticized the Bhalla administration for starting a political squabble over the police chief’s contract. She said it’s “a shame @KenFerrante believes BS by City Hall & feels need to threaten #Hoboken,” referring to the July 11 letter sent by Ferrante to the Council.

In a flurry of tweets, Ferrante responded to Fisher and said she was “out of line.” He said, “I sent an email to council & administration with FOUR options as to how to settle my contract and put all the political BS aside,” he wrote. “Yes, one is if the council and admin does not want to get together to approve another contract, I will happily retire as my tenure doubles that of the next Chief in Hudson County and my pension is already in place.”

Hours after the online exchange, councilmembers responded to tweets urging the Hoboken City Council to support Ferrante’s contract and get out of its dysfunctional rut.

Emily Jabbour, an at-large city councilmember, said that the debate over the police chief’s contract became “shameful.” “The record of @KenFerrante is to be commended,” she said in a tweet. “#Hoboken is a model PD under his leadership. To suggest otherwise is playing politics with a true public servant. I look forward to supporting his contract renewal tmrw.”

Phil Cohen, the fifth ward councilmember, said that despite being the newest member on the council, “I know that when you have an MVP on the team, you sign him to a long-term contract.⁩”  He added, “I am forward to voting ‘yes’ tonight on Chief ⁦@KenFerrante⁩’s 3-year contract.”

Later into the evening, Fisher, while responding to questions from users on Twitter, said she would support Ferrante’s three-year contract “mainly to stop the chaos.” She said the debate over the police chief’s contract “has been blown out of proportion so much that I am willing to acquiesce.”

Fisher added, “None on the council wanted our Chief to leave notwithstanding the messaging from City Hall to the contrary.”

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