NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Thomas Valenti, the son of County Freeholder Blanquita Valenti, was promoted to lead two of the city government's ten departments shortly before those departments were merged into one.
According to officials, Valenti was named the "Acting Director" of the Department of Public Works (DPW) and the Department of Engineering in July.
"I'm a jack of all trades, master of none," joked the new Acting Director, noting that his background in engineering gives him one important advantage: He's practical.
Valenti took over for Steven Zarecki, who retired after more than thirty years on the city payroll as the longest-serving department head in the city government.
At the time of his retirement, Zarecki was also the only department head leading two different departments, supervising both Public Works and Engineering. He was first hired to work in the Business Administrator's office in 1986 during the administration of Mayor John Lynch, Jr.
"[I've] known him for a long time, he did a great job," said City Councilman Kevin Egan. "I'm gonna miss him."
Zarecki's departure also required the elevation of another employee to a new job title.
At the July 5 City Council meeting, City Attorney TK Shamy noted that every municipality is required to name a certified public works manager.
That night, the Council approved a resolution naming Assistant Public Works Superintendent Victor Fair, a city worker since 1985, to the position.
Fair, who also works as an attendant in the New Brunswick Municipal Court for $16 per hour, received an increase in his annual salary from $68,303 to $90,000.
Then, at the August 15 City Council meeting, an ordinance was unanimously approved to combine the two deparments into a Department of Public Works and Engineering.
"Many of the responsibilities of the two departments overlap," reads a statement posted to the city website after New Brunswick Today asked for an explanation of the proposed merger:
The Department of Public Works oversees sanitation in the City of New Brunswick, including trash and recycling collection and street sweeping; Parks and Shade Tree Division; roadway repairs and repaving; and oversight of the City’s sanitary sewer system.
The Department of Engineering is often engaged in these areas and is responsible for the review of site plans; contract bid specifications; municipal improvement projects; traffic and sign improvements; preparation of City maps; and issuance of permits for construction, dumpsters, fiber optic installation and street openings.
Given the complementary nature of the two departments and the shared responsibilities, the merger is intended to provide greater synergy and efficiency.
Valenti, who has worked in the Engineering Department since 2013, supported the move, noting at a Traffic Commission meeting, pointing to the history of the city government.
"At one time, we were in charge of DPW, then it went back," he said. "If you look at the history… you'll see that this has been done from time to time."
The promotion came with a $20,000 increase in annual pay, bringing Valenti's total salary to $125,000, though city records still list him as "Assistant Municipal Engineer" as of August 17.
The move takes Valenti from working under City Engineer Richard Moody to becoming his boss. Moody was hired in April 2016 at a starting salary of $105,000 per year.
Valenti is a lifelong city resident who hails from the Dewey Heights section of the First Ward, and he comes from a political family.
"The family is very happy and very proud of him," said his mother Blanquita, who served on the New Brunswick City Council from 1991 until 2009 and lives on the same block as her son.
A retired Spanish teacher who worked in the Woodbridge public schools, Blanquita Valenti is also one of the longest-sering elected officials in the county government, known as the Board of Chosen Freholders.
Thomas Valenti's father, Carl Valenti, was one of five local candidates who successfully ran for city offices in 1967 and uppended a political machine that dominated city government for decades. He passed away just a few years later and the community room in the city's library was named for him.
Business Administrator Thomas Loughlin III, whose sister is married to Zarecki, confirmed that the state law allows the city to have up to ten departments, and that the merger brings the total number to nine.
"The merging of these two departments does create the potential for creating a tenth department should you and the Mayor so decide," Loughlin told the Council, saying there was "nothing imminent" planned in that regard.
Editor's Note: The author of this article is a candidate for Mayor of New Brunswick in the November 6, 2018 election.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate and a community organizer, and was an independent candidate for Mayor of New Brunswick in 2018.