PATERSON, NJ - In apparent violation of its agreements with the state, the City of Paterson has hired more than 100 employees without getting requisite approvals from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA), officials said.
Paterson's fiscal problems and its reliance on transitional aid from Trenton have forced municipal officials in recent years to sign an annual agreement, called Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), that included provisions requiring the city to get state approval on hirings.
But in reviewing the city's recent layoff plans, state officials said they realized there were employees on the municipal payroll whose hirings had not been authorized by the DCA.
"Part of the reason the City’s layoff plan was delayed in getting approved was because the State had never been notified of many civil service employees that were hired,'' said DCA spokeswoman Lisa Ryan. "We found more than 100 employees hired under the previous MOU for which no State approvals had been provided. We have made it clear to Paterson that it must get our approval before it hires personnel and that we will be diligent in checking its adherence to the requirement.''
State officials did not say exactly when those employees were hired. The city has been under state-imposed hiring restrictions for at least the past year.
It's also not clear what sanctions, if any, the city faces for hiring workers without state approval. DCA officials have warned Paterson that the state would put the city under state supervision if it did not resolve its fiscal problems with a balance budget.
Among the more than 100 workers on the state's list is Kenneth Sumter, the Eastside High technology teacher who has been simultaneously working for the city since September as Mayor Jeffrey Jones' director of information technology. Sumter makes $50,000 for his city hall job and $67,344 from the school district.
"We did not approve Mr. Sumter’s hire and are looking into the matter,'' said Ryan.
Jones did not return a phone message seeking his comment on the unauthorized hirings.
Councilman Kenneth Morris, the finance chairman, has raised concerns about the Jones' administration's hirings, especially in terms of their impact on the budget. The municipal tax bills issued last month included a 29-percent and the next wave of bills could impose another increase if city officials do not find another way to close their $12 million deficit.
In February, Morris issued a report that said the city had hired 60 employees with combined salaries of about $1.27 million after Jones took office in July 1. Morris said his understanding was that many of those employees had not been approved by the DCA.
Among those 60 employees are eight workers who were hired after the city council imposed a mandatory 10-day furlough program on all city departments except for public safety.
Morris said he thought it was "fundamentally unfair'' to hire new employees while workers already on the payroll were being forced to take unpaid days off.