New Baraka appointments may add stability to fluctuating Newark administration

By Naomi Nix | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on March 05, 2015

NEWARK — Newark's City Council unanimously approved on Wednesday Mayor Ras Baraka's picks for two top city positions adding some stability to an administration that is experiencing several high-profile staffing changes.

The city council voted nine to zero to confirm former Jersey City business administrator Jack Kelly to take the same role in Newark and Willie Parker to be the city's new corporation counsel.

"These two individuals are qualified professionals who will provide our City with forthright leadership and wise counsel as we continue to transform Newark," Baraka said in a statement. "I am excited to welcome Mr. Kelly and Mr. Parker to my administration."

Kelly started his career as an intern and later an employee in Essex County's budget office. He then spent more than 20 years working for the City of Orange, where he served as its chief financial officer.

Kelly became Jersey City's business administrator in 2010, a role he stayed in for about three and half years. He served briefly as Asbury Park's city manager.

But Kelly's career has also been marked by some controversies including a 1998 state investigation that alleged he was part of former Orange mayor Robert Brown's administration which pressured employees and businesses to donate to brown's campaign.

And Kelly's lack of experience in Newark initially worried some council members.

"I am giving the mayor all of the tools and the personnel that he says he needs in order to move the city forward," said Central Ward councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins, who initially expressed concerns about his nomination.

"I removed my reservations out of the way."

At-large councilman Carlos Gonzalez, an early supporter of Kelly, said he was glad the mayor's administration was able to convince the rest of the council.

"I believe he is qualified," he said.

Parker takes the place of former corporation counsel Karen Brown, who was recently ousted from her position. Brown is challenging her ouster saying the city violated due process, according to her lawyer, Charles Sciarra.

Parker has been serving as a municipal prosecutor since Baraka took office in July. Prior to that he served as assistant county counsel of Essex County and as a township attorney for Irvington. He was also on Baraka's transition team committee on operations, according to a resume supplied by the city.

"He knows intimately what's been going on," Baraka said in a recent interview. "It helps us not miss a beat."

The appointments end what has been a period of several high-level staffing changes in the city.

The city's business administrator position had been open for eight months. Baraka did not propose a business administrator at the start of his term, but instead brought in Prudential Financial executive Christopher Cooper as a temporary consultant.

Meanwhile, Brown was the second senior official to leave her post. Former communications director Sakina Cole announced she was resigning last year. Cole was eventually replaced by former broadcast personality Felipe Luciano.

Baraka said the staffing changes are just the nature of working in the public sector.

"I'm not sure that it is not going to happen again," he said in a recent interview. "(There) might be other positions we decide we want a change or somebody is going to move on."

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