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As Mayor Mulls Next Interim Police Chief Appointment, City Continues To Work on Severance Package for Wittig

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PATERSON, NJ – Former police chief James Wittig may still have a severance check coming his way. During Friday night’s budget hearing, city officials said they were still trying to craft a payout arrangement for Wittig, who retired four weeks ago.

In January, the state rejected the city’s recent $249,000 offer to Wittig, saying it saw no need for a severance package for the former chief. Municipal officials, however, have said Paterson could face a lawsuit by Wittig if the city gave him nothing.

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So city officials are trying to come up with retirement package for Wittig that would satisfy the state and the former chief. That process has been complicated by the fact that Paterson never entered reached a formal contract with Wittig stipulating terms and conditions of his employment, including how many vacation days he could accumulate and be paid for at retirement.

“We still haven’t figured out his buyout package yet,’’ said Budget Director Russell Forenza. “He will have some kind of money that is due him.

Business administrator Charles Thomas said officials were still trying to figure out exactly how much unused leave time Wittig should be paid for.

Meanwhile, Mayor Jeffrey Jones must decide this week who will oversee the police department until Wittig’s permanent replacement is picked. Last month, city officials designated deputy chief William Fraher as acting chief for 30 days, an appointment that expires in the middle of this week.

Thomas said the mayor would pick someone as interim chief for up to six months while the city goes through the civil service testing process for Wittig’s replacement. Jones has also expressed hope that Paterson could conduct a nationwide search for a new chief without using civil service test. But that would require the federal census officials to increase the city’s population to more than 150,000, putting Paterson in the “first class” that would allow more flexibility in the process for picking a police chief.

In their budget discussions, the city council eliminated one of Paterson’s three deputy chief positions on the theory that one of the three men current at that rank –  Robert Drace, Fraher and Danny Nichols - would be promoted to chief. There also has been talk about allowing Paterson’s seven police captains to take the civil service test for chief.

Nichols and Police Director Glenn Brown attended the budget hearing for the police department. Fraher was not there, something that annoyed Councilman William McKoy, chairman of the public safety committee.

Brown said Fraher had a vacation day that had been scheduled in advance. “These meetings also were prescheduled and advertised,’’ McKoy said.

“He’s out of town today,’’ Brown said of Fraher.

McKoy then asked that as head of the public safety committee he be notified whenever the city chief is out of town.

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