Councilman Gaughan Appoints Daughter as Paid Council Aide

Fairly or not, Hudson County’s appearance as breeding ground for political malfeasance has filled up its share of newspaper real-estate — after all, when a series of FBI stings takes down some of the highest political officials and appointees in a city like Jersey City, it’s going to have staying power.

Which is why appearance is important for many residents (see: crime), even when the action in question — in this case, the appointment of a relative as council aide — is perfectly legal.

So when Ward D Councilman Bill Gaughan swapped in daughter Eileen Gaughan for his council aide after his other daughter, Bridget Ludlow, left to pursue a different job, there were some ruffling of political-observer feathers. But because the appointment went ahead 7-0-2, with Gaughan as one of the abstaining votes, it all fell within the bounds of the law, said William Kearns, the general counsel for the New Jersey League of Municipalities.

“In a case like this, if you appoint a relative there are going to be people criticizing the decision,” said Kerans. “But you’re appointing someone you have a lot of trust in. How do you balance that? That’s for the public to decide.”

One such resident outraged by the decision is John Hanussak, the president and founder of the Highland Ave Neighborhood Association
and a Democratic Committee Representative, who in an e-mail claimed, “Your average fortune 500 Company would never allow immediate family to be a direct report. This eliminates any potential conflict of interest or ethics violation.”

“With the corrupt history of Hudson County and Jersey City, one would think that our elected officials would be extra cautious in their day to day operations. Is the pool of potential council aides thin? Absolutely not,” he went on, pointing to the “new breed of committee representatives that were elected last year” that demonstrate the wide pool of potential appointees.

“This would also help in mentoring the next generation to ensure they can raise the bar when servicing their communities. Do the ethical thing for yourselves but most importantly, the community,” he said.

But certainly it’s a complicated discussion, which At-Large Councilman Rolando Lavarro, the other abstaining vote in the appointment, acknowledged.

“It makes a lot of sense” for Gaughan to appoint his daughter considering her resume, he said. Gaughan’s daughter, for example, is the chair of the city Municipal Utilities Authority.

“It’s very hard to find someone you can really trust and is willing to work at this high a level who isn’t family,” said Lavarro, who observed that the $15,000 pay that comes with the position doesn’t speak to the hours and work required. “So hiring family is almost understandable.”

When asked about the appointment, Gaughan called his daughter “the most qualified for the job. She has 12 years of government service.”

But in a city already looking to contain questionable appearances, there are some fine lines to consider, which speaks to Lavarro’s vote.

“I want to lead by example and I don’t want to encourage the appearance of nepotism,” he said.

“There’s a longstanding tradition that you respect another council person’s choice for who they want to appoint for their council aide,” he explained. “So I abstained so as to not take a position for or against it. I can see the pros and cons for both sides of the argument.”

“There’s no denying she has the ability to do the job,” he continued.

Lavarro’s aide, on the other hand, is Carol Corrales, a recent college graduate he said he’s known for years. He noted she has “volunteered and worked on different things with me long before I was elected. I know she does the work.”

You can’t, he added, just base a pick on a resume. “There’s not enough for someone to learn the ropes, they have to hit the ground running.”

These responsibilities, besides administrative work, include “sometimes acting as the left and right hand of the council person.”

Corrales, he added, “represents me when there’s an event I can’t attend. She has to step in in that regard. Your aide needs to be able speak to where you stand on issues and policy.”

Photo: Mickey Mathis

Matt Hunger

is a former staff writer for the Jersey City Independent.