PATERSON, NJ – In a forceful condemnation of the overtime paid to high-ranking municipal officials after last summer’s historic floods, the City Council is seeking to terminate two of them, suspend two others without pay and impose a vote of no confidence against the mayor.
A 30-page report, released on Wednesday, outlines the council’s findings and recommendations stemming from the seven hearings the council’s Committee of the Whole conducted last November and December. The report, written by City Council Finance Chairman Kenneth Morris, also calls for various city department and division heads to return any overtime they received since July 2010.
In addition to its criticism of the performance of most high-ranking members of Mayor Jeffrey Jones’ administration, the report also chastises the city’s police unions for what it describes as their unwillingness to cooperate with the probe. Moreover, the document outlined various reforms that it says it plans to implement to prevent overtime abuses in the future.
The report says Jones was “evasive and misleading” in his testimony during the hearings, describes one of the mayor’s explanations regarding the overtime payments as “disingenuous,’’ and says he had “no intention of cooperating fully with the Committee’s investigation.’’
In reference to the mayor’s own overtime check for more than $6,000, the report said, “The Committee concludes that the Mayor was not only fully aware that hours were being submitted on his behalf but actively took part in the processes that lead up to the submissions of relevant documents.’’
Jones has insisted he was surprised when an overtime check was handed to him after the floods. After initially saying back in September that he was not sure whether he was entitled to the overtime, Jones returned his check when the state told him to do so. The state has given other city officials until March 1 to set up repayment plans or to return the improper overtime payments, including thousands of dollars paid out to some Cabinet members for work separate from the flood disaster.
PatersonPress.com received the council's overtime report at 10:30 pm and did not reach out to Jones for his response because of the late hour. In a February interview with njtvonline, Jones said he did not make any mistakes in the flood response and said any problems stemmed from unclear policies he inherited.
Here’s a breakdown of the City Council’s findings regarding other top members of the Jones administration:
Business Administrator Charles Thomas: The report said Thomas seemed to understand the prohibition against exempt, or salaried, employees receiving overtime, but still accepted overtime payments for himself and allowed other city managers to get the extra pay.
“The Committee finds that Mr. Thomas assertion that he received direction from the Director of OEM to submit documentation to receive overtime compensation to be a misrepresentation of the facts and whereas the Committee finds these actions to be a gross dereliction of the duties of Mr. Thomas’ position and therefore orders that he be suspended without pay. The Council will convene a meeting upon notice to Mr. Thomas and provide him with an opportunity to be heard as to why it should not suspend him without pay for a determined number of days.’’
Chief of Staff Charles Pettiford: The report said Pettiford falsely testified that he did not sign off on the mayor’s overtime sheet and it describes his ability to sign off on his own overtime as a glaring flaw in Paterson’s payroll process.
“The Committee finds that Mr. Pettiford inability to clearly articulate his role, duties, responsibilities, and job function(s) as Confidential Aid to the Mayor / Chief of Staff, a clear indication that the position of Chief of Staff / Confidential Aid to the Mayor is superfluous and questions the need for such a taxpayer supported position The Council will convene a meeting upon notice to Mr. Pettiford and provide him with an opportunity to be heard as to why it should not terminate him from his employment with the city of Paterson in accordance with N.J.S.A.:40:69A-37.”
Personnel Director Betty Taylor: The report says Taylor “systematically processed and allowed overtime payments to be made to city employees without the proper documentation, and or verification of hours claimed to have worked. The Committee also finds that she did seek verification of time worked by supervised staff by a senior staff member, supervisor, manager, or any designated person of authority.’’
The report said the council will convene a meeting to allow Taylor to make her case one why she should not be terminated. The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, in a report issued in December, also has recommended that Paterson remove Taylor from the personnel director position. Thomas has not responded to PatersonPress.com’s questions on whether the city is looking to replace Taylor.
Community Development Director Lanisha Makle: The reports suggests that after the overtime hearings began Makle falsely created a timesheet to support testimony she had given and then submitted the suspect time sheet to the council at later point in the proceedings.
“The Committee finds sufficient cause to find that Ms. Makle and Ms. Taylor conspired to defraud and misrepresent the time recorded on an official time recording instrument, and recommends that Ms. Makle and Ms. Taylor be suspended without compensation. The Council will convene a meeting upon notice to both Ms. Taylor and Ms. Makle and provide them with an opportunity to be heard as to why they should not be suspended without pay for a determined number of days and or other actions the Council deems proper.’’
Other cities officials who came under criticism in the report were then-Police Chief James Wittig, Public Works Director Christopher Coke, Health and Human Services Director Donna Nelson-Ivy, Finance Director Anthony Zambrano, Budget Director Russell Forenza, and Health Officer Trevor Weigle.