PATERSON, NJ – Mayor Jeffrey Jones’ hotel bill at the League of Municipalities convention in Atlantic City was more than three times larger than the cost for any of the 23 other city employees who went to the November conference.
Jones’ hotel tab was $1,920, while the next highest figure was $604 for several officials who stayed four nights in at the Borgata in Atlantic City, according to expense documents the city provided to PatersonPress.com through a state Open Public Records Act request.
Overall, Paterson taxpayers paid about $14,500 for lodging, registration, meals and other expenses stemming from the convention. But the cost of the convention for city taxpayers could be twice that amount because the New Jersey Division of Local Government Services says it may withhold some transitional aid from municipalities that did not get prior state approval for the travel expenses. Paterson is among those places that did not get the requisite approval, state officials said.
City expense reports show $13,094 was spent on hotel rooms for 24 officials and employees, $550 for registration fees, and about $800 for things like meals and mileage.
The state does not allow municipalities that get transitional aid to pay for meals for employees or officials unless stipulated under an approved labor contact.
Neither Jones nor his business administrator Charles Thomas returned phone messages seeking their comments about the travel expenses. Some council members said Jones’ bill was higher because the mayor of Paterson traditionally reserves a suite, instead of a regular hotel room, at the convention. That’s been the practice of mayors prior to Jones.
“I don’t see that as unusual,’’ said City Council Finance Chairman Kenneth Morris.
“The mayor gets a suite to entertain staff and to network with other elected officials from around the state,’’ said Councilman William McKoy.
Other council members were more critical of the mayor’s hotel bill.
“He’s living large down there, that’s what’s happening,’’ said Councilman Aslon Goow.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,’’ said Councilman Andre Sayegh. “That’s alarming.’’
McKoy took exception with the state position that travel to the convention must be approved beforehand. “It’s almost a quasi-governmental function,’’ McKoy said. “It’s almost dereliction of duty for us not to go.’’
Besides the $1,920 for Jones, here’s a breakdown on other city officials’ hotel bills:
· $604, which covered four nights, was paid for Morris, Council President Anthony Davis, Chief of Staff Charles Pettiford, Purchasing Agent Harry Cevallos, Recycling Director Diane Polifronio, public works supervisor Joe Mania, public works employee Fred Frazier, and Det. Claudy Robinson, who is the police officer assigned to accompany the mayor.
· $453, which covered three nights, was paid for Thomas, Goow, Sayegh, Councilman Benjie Wimberly, Councilmen Julio Tavarez, Councilman Rigo Rodriguez and Councilwoman Vera Ames-Garnes, Community Development Director Lanisha Makle, Health and Human Services Director Donna Nelson-Ivy, Public Works Director Christopher Coke, deputy public works director Steve Howe, Corporation Counsel Paul Forsman, and community development management specialist Joyce Hunt.
· $302, which covered two nights, was paid for McKoy.
· $151, which covered one night, was paid for Budget Director Russell Forenza.
The expense reports indicated at least three other city employees attended the convention, but there were no hotel bills for them. Tax assessor Matthew Rinaldi submitted a voucher for $144.30 in mileage expenses, according to the documents. Also, Mania’s food expenses covered meals for two other city employees, Jorge Makdissi and Gaspar Cintron.