UNION CITY - A Kane In Your Corner investigation finds financial irregularities at the Union City Housing Authority. In some cases, management is vastly exceeding spending limits intended to protect taxpayer dollars, without authorization. A leading ethics expert criticizes the practice, saying it benefits political insiders who can submit artificially low bids.
The UCHA provides affordable homes to low-income residents. Since it receives federal funding, all of us pay for it, which means we also pay its attorney, Julio Morejon. There’s no disputing Morejon’s political connections; he is a former judge who was reportedly on Gov. Chris Christie’s short list to be appointed Hudson County prosecutor. At first glance, Morejon appears to be a bargain. He was the low bidder by a considerable margin, drawing a base salary of $24,000, with the potential to earn up to $20,000 more in hourly billing. Anything above the cap of $44,000 requires authorization by the UCHA Board of Directors.
But public records obtained by Kane In Your Corner show in his two years on the job, Morejon has raked in more than double the allowed amount: $98,000 in 2014 and $94,000 the year before. And minutes of board meetings show there were never any votes authorizing spending above the cap.
UCHA Chairman Marty Marinetti says he was “astounded” to hear those figures. “It's disturbing that the question was asked on several occasions, and we've always been told the cap remained the same,” he said.
Housing Authority minutes confirm Martinetti did ask multiple times whether the $44,000 cap was being enforced. At one meeting alone, the minutes show he first asked Morejon what his total pay was the year before, only to have Morejon reply: “I don't know." Martinetti then turned his attention to UCHA Executive Director Virgilio Cabello, repeatedly asking him whether Morejon’s total compensation was under the cap. Cabello confirmed four times that it was, before finally adding, “hopefully, we’ll see.”
Morejon insists he did nothing wrong, since he performed all of the work he was paid for. He also insists any payment above the maximum was “authorized” by the UCHA, despite the lack of any votes or resolutions to support that contention.
Ingrid Reed, a political analyst recognized for her expertise on local government ethics, says arrangements in which spending limits are exceeded without proper authorization are “not good management practice and really not ethical.” Because only political insiders can know when contract limits won’t be enforced, Reed says they can vastly underbid other applicants to secure those deceptively lucrative jobs.