PATERSON, NJ – The City Council's plan to override Mayor Jeffrey Jones' veto of a ordinance reducing administrative salaries must now wait for the state to approve the hiring of a special legal counsel to handle the matter, officials said.
Paterson Corporation Counsel Paul Forsman had determined the special counsel was needed because he felt he would have a conflict of interests because his salary was among those that would have been cut. But Business Administrator Charles Thomas said the city first must get approval from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) before retaining the special counsel because it would be considered an extra expense under the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding Paterson has with the state on municipal spending.
"I find that amazing,'' said Councilman Kenneth Morris, the main proponent of the ordinance that would cut Jones' salary along with those of several of his Cabinet members.
Morris and other council members have accused Jones and his staff of delaying the council’s plans to cut the salaries.
Last week, the council last week put on hold the appointment of six law firms requested by the Jones’ administration as an attempt to spur quicker action on the veto override. But now, officials said, the law firm appointments will be voted on Tuesday night because the timing of the override plan depends on DCA approval.
The law firms on the list were Hunt Hamlin & Ridley of Newark; Sciro & Marotta of Paterson; Lite, DePalma, Greenberg of Newark; Ruderman & Glickman of Springfield; Adams, Stern, Gutierrez & Lattiboudere of Newark; and McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter of Newark.
The salary battle has dragged on since April. It seemed resolved in May when the council by a 7-1 vote adopted an ordinance that would have cut Jones’ pay by $24,000, down to $95,000, as well as the salaries of five of his top administrators, and three council members. A majority of the city council argued that Jones improperly set his new appointees’ salaries based on what the officials they were replacing made, instead of setting their salaries at the starting pay stipulated by a 2004 salary ordinance.
But on May 31, Jones vetoed the ordinance, calling it an attempt by the council to intimidate his department heads and to interfere with the decisions they made.
Council members said they quickly would vote to override the mayor’s veto. But that initiative stalled when Paterson Corporation Counsel Paul Forsman, whose pay would have been cut under the ordinance, told the city council members he couldn’t continue to advise them on the salary situation because of a potential conflict in interests.
The city council on June 14 grudgingly voted to retain a special legal counsel at $125 per hour to handle the override. Since then, there has been no public action taken.
Council members have said they are waiting to hear from the special counsel on the next step in the override process. Meanwhile, administration officials said the special counsel was waiting to hear from the city council.
Beside the mayor’s salary, here are most of the other pay cuts that are at stake:
· Thomas' salary would go from $114,400 to $88,152.
· Department of Public Works Director Christopher Coke’s salary would go from $105,000 to $83,773.
· Forsman’s salary would go from $96,430 to $76,366.
· Health and Human Services Director Donna Nelson-Ivy’s salary would go from $84,790 to $71,741.
· Community Development Director Lanisha Makle’s salary would go from $78,190 to $71,741.
Also, under the ordinance, three council members - Andre Sayegh, Julio Tavarez, and Wimberly - would have their pay cut from $41,000 to $34,870. The rest of the council members would continue to make $41,000 because of their time in office.