I remember reading once about something President Eisenhower said: “People elected to serve the public must avoid even the appearance of impropriety.” Last week’s Herald News headline, “Mayor at top of Overtime Earners’ List” is exactly what President Eisenhower was talking about.
It was reported in the Herald News that Jones Administration department heads, including the Mayor whose salary is $119,000, were paid a significant amount of overtime for their work during Hurricane Irene. The “overtime” numbers reported by the Herald are staggering totaling more than $50,000 in overtime paid to salaried positions - and all for ONE HURRICANE!. The total overtime pay for all city employees exceeded $700,000!
In my eight years as Mayor we had six storms, including two hurricanes. I, nor any of my staff paid by salary, requested or accepted “overtime” pay for doing the job we were elected to do.
It is interesting to note that once the story broke in the Herald, and state officials demanded the money be paid back, Jones and his department heads all stated that they would return the money to the city treasury. Sadly, this is more than the appearance of impropriety it is the subject of two investigations - one by the state Department of Community Affairs and the other by the Paterson City Council.
A recent press release from the Mayor’s Office stated that the administration has begun to “analyze all protocols, internal controls and fiscal procedures to identify systematic deficiencies.” I can say from experience that there aren’t any “protocols”, “internal controls” or “systematic deficiencies” that allow this. However, there may be loopholes in the system that present those in office with an opportunity to “bend” the rules so they can profit from their time in office.
In a Letter to the Editor on October 4th a writer suggested a full “citywide review” of who authorized the payments of overtime, why were the payments authorized, and who is the Department head responsible.
I can answer those questions. After being reelected in 2006 there were “questions” about the Department of Human Resources and Betty Taylor as Acting Director. I did three things: 1. Demoted Ms. Taylor, 2. Hired Fernando Fuentes as Director and 3. Removed Payroll from the Personnel Director to the Treasury Department under Betty Shabazz.
One of Jones first acts as Mayor was to reverse those three steps: 1. He fired Fernando Fuentes, 2. Promoted Ms. Taylor as Personnel Director (who is under federal investigation for receiving a $43,000 in home repair funds from the city. It was also reported that Ms. Taylor has been paid a total of more than $17,000 in overtime through September 30th), and 3. Remove Payroll from Treasury and returned it to Personel and Ms. Taylor.
As I said earlier this is more that the "appearance" of impropriety and the citizens of Paterson, especially the taxpayers, deserve better. It will be interesting to see where the investigations lead!
Jose "Joey" Torres
Former Mayor of Paterson
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