NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Characterizing the resignation of Water Director Frank Marascia and Treatment Plant Supervisor as an "emergency," Mayor Jim Cahill quietly made himself the Water Director late last month.
Within a week of Marascia's last day, Cahill signed an agreement to bring in an outside company to run the day-to-day operations starting July 7.
"This [agreement] is a temporary solution to a problem that we had limited time to solve... an emergency fix to ensure delivery of water to City residents," wrote city spokesperson Jennifer Bradshaw.
"Nobody knows when someone is going to resign," said Council President Rebecca Escobar, apparently forced to defend the controversial privatization deal without the help of Mayor Cahill, who signed the agreement without consulting the Council.
But according to American Water, the parent company of New Jersey American Water, Marascia tendered his resignation on May 26, giving the Mayor five week's notice of his departure.
"I apologize we didn't see that coming," said Business Administrator Thomas Loughlin, who ran the Water Utility for more than five years despite having no qualifications to do so.
Marascia was almost universally liked by city officials and members of the public, known for guiding the utility through perhaps its toughest times and reporting violations of the law to the proper authorities.
Environmental Commission member Heather Fenyk told New Brunswick Today, "Marascia was a proponent of improved communication with city residents about drinking water quality and regularly attended community meetings to discuss resident concerns about these issues."
"He offered to serve as a member on New Brunswick's 'Green Team,' and regularly met with the New Brunswick Environmental Commission to discuss water quality issues, climate change adaptation planning for the City's water utility, and to plan public tours of the water utility."
On March 31, Bradshaw issued a press release touting an award received by Marascia. The American Water Works Association's NJ chapter gave him the Harold V. Florence, Jr., Meritorious Operator Award.
Within two months, Marascia had already decided to leave the utility, though his impending departure was kept secret from the public.
"He provided 4 weeks notice to the city, which was then extended by another week," said an American Water spokesperson.
But Loughlin said something slightly different at last week's Council meeting. He claimed Marascia gave three weeks notice at first, which was extended by two weeks.
Loughlin said Cahill had asked him to make a counter-offer to Marascia, after he submitted his resignation. But Loughlin said Marascia told him not to bother.
Marascia now works at the company's Canoe Brook Water Treatment Plant in Short Hills, NJ. But, according to the company, Marascia is also one of six American Water employees being brought in to run the New Brunswick Water Treatment Plant.
"At the request of the city, Mr. Marascia is providing temporary part-time transition support to the New Brunswick operation to ensure a smooth transition; however his permanent role is working for New Jersey American Water at the Canoe Brook facility."
As we reported previously, Marascia left for a variety of personal reasons according to City Hall officials. But sources say he was fed up with a lack of support from City Hall.
It also probably did not help that a New Brunswick housing inspector punished for making racist remarks was eventually transferred to a job in Marascia's shop.
Either way, Marascia's departure alone did not create the emergency.
Keith Smith, who ran the Treatment Plant was hired just eight months ago after the cover-up scandal made headlines, but he resigned a week after Marascia, leaving the city with no proper licensed officials on the payroll.
"The departure of Keith Smith and Frank Marascia leaves us without appropriately licensed staff to operate the plant. This agreement with American Water will provide us with the staff needed at the plant."
It is not yet clear why Smith left the job so quickly after Marascia.
Assistant Maintenance Supervisor Sean Faust also submitted his resignation. He had been with the city since 2006.
Bradshaw provided the names of three additions to the team, courtesy of the American Water deal.
"Licensed operators provided by American Water are Scott Baxter-Green and James Cowley. Baxter-Green is a T4 licensed operator, Cowley holds T4 and W4 licensing."
"We're also getting a shift supervisor by the name of Anthony Coppa, who holds a T2 license."
David Choate, President of Contract Services at American Water said his company was "fully committed" to providing "safe, reliable and affordable water service to the citizens of New Brunswick."
"American Water is pleased to be selected by the City of New Brunswick for an interim agreement to provide the appropriately certified licensed operators and supplemental supervisors for its water system," said Choate.
But the city spokesperson said that rates might go up in the near future, though she tried to distance herself from any increase.
"If the rates go up, it will because of combination things, not directly related to this agreement," Bradshaw told the Home News Tribune.
"The rates go up anyway each year, but we don't expect this contract to have an immediate effect on rates. It's not going to make anything shoot up in the next month or so."