411 Investigates: New City Director
EXCLUSIVE: Wenson-Maier brings baggage to Hoboken
This week Mayor Dawn Zimmer sent out a press release announcing she hired Jennifer Wenson-Maier to be her new Director of Environmental Services. While others took Zimmer’s announcement at face value (as usual) only Hoboken411 took the time to do some checking on the new hire. The results of our reporting may surprise you.
Let’s start with the Mayor’s brief announcement on Tuesday:
- “Mayor Dawn Zimmer introduced Jennifer Wenson Maier today as the City of Hoboken’s new Environmental Services Director. Ms. Maier is the Director of Public Works & Urban Development in Plainfield, New Jersey, where she has brought in over $11 million in related grants in just three years.”
Zimmer’s statement might leave you with the impression that Plainfield officials will be sad to see Wenson-Maier go. Hoboken411 has learned Wenson-Maier has been under fire in Plainfield for some time. After four years of service she was told she would no longer be employed in recently re-elected Mayor Sharon Robinson Briggs’ administration.
Wenson-Maier no longer welcome in Plainfield
According to numerous sources, the Plainfield City Council and members of the public wanted Wenson-Maier – or “JWM”, as she is referred to – removed. They got their wish at the end of last year, but a delay in the arrival of her replacement meant she stayed on for a longer transition period than planned. Back to Zimmer’s press release:
- “In addition to her experience as a public works manager, Ms. Maier is also a certified planner and architect.”
What Zimmer doesn’t tell us (and what JWM left OFF of the resume posted on the Hoboken City website) is that she’s also a City Council member in her hometown of Rahway. In fact, the Rahway-born-and-raised Wenson-Maier is so politically active, PolitickerNJ named her as a potential replacement for Assemblywoman Linda Stender. JWM often dealt with the same developers in her very different roles in Plainfield and Rahway, which had watchdogs on the lookout for potential conflicts.
Will being elected AND appointed present conflicts?
It’s not known if Zimmer knew JWM was an elected official, since it’s not on her resume. One Hoboken City Hall watchdog asked, “Will anyone be watching to see if companies that hold Hoboken contracts are making campaign contributions to Wenson-Maier in Rahway?” Back to Zimmer’s press release:
- “Given the City’s urgent task of building a new municipal garage, Ms. Maier brings an array of expertise that Hoboken needs for this position,” Mayor Zimmer commented.”
Wenson-Maier did not build a Municipal Garage in Plainfield. She would also be precluded by law from acting as the contracted planner or architect on Hoboken’s new garage. In fact, the bulk of her job in Plainfield was not Public Works, but Urban Development. In Hoboken terms, she was more like the “Fred Bado” of Plainfield than the “Joe Peluso” of the Queen City.
Unlike Hoboken, Plainfield’s solid waste removal is handled by the independent Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, not by the city. The job Zimmer is hiring JWM for largely involves Waste Management issues she did not handle in Plainfield. The bulk of her duties in Plainfield are done by Hoboken’s Director of Community Development, not the Environmental Services boss.
Is Zimmer repeating history with this hire? What about John Pope? That and more after the jump!
(Who is Jennifer Wenson-Maier? continued…)
Shades of Cassandra Wilday
It might seem like Zimmer is hiring a Bado to do a Peluso’s job, but for the better comparison you have to go back to David Roberts’ first term. In some ways Zimmer appears to be hiring her own version of Cassandra Wilday.
For those who don’t recall, Wilday was hired to be Roberts’ first Environmental Services Director at the behest of Carol Marsh and other self-proclaimed “reformers” who hooked up with him. Wilday was a landscape architect with no experience in running a Public Works operation. She’s highly regarded for the work she did on Pier A, but her critics said she was not well equipped to run the department.
Like so many Roberts appointments, it didn’t end well.
John Pope Jettisoned for Councilwoman Wenson-Maier
- “Mayor Zimmer thanked Director Pope for his service to the City and for agreeing to work with Ms. Maier until March 1st in order to provide a transition period for the department.“It has been my great privilege to serve the City of Hoboken and its residents,” Director John Pope said. “I have had the opportunity to work with a great group of people in both Human Services and Environmental Services. Their dedication has made my job easier.”
Pope is being let go for only one reason: his ties to Councilman Michael Russo. Will a politically active City Council member from Rahway who was run out of her Director position in Plainfield get the job done in Hoboken? Mayor Zimmer thinks so. Do you? Comment on Hoboken’s most read local news site below.
411 note: Thanks to those who helped with this story, including Plainfield’s leading Citizen Journalist, Bernice Paglia of the Plainfield Plaintalker, and a number of other sources who wished to stay off the record.