PATERSON, NJ – In the first display of remorse in Paterson’s ongoing overtime saga, Business Administrator Charles Thomas on Thursday night offered to repay the city for any payments he “erroneously took.”
During testimony in the second day of the City Council’s inquiry, Thomas acknowledged that despite considering himself an employee exempt from overtime, he had been taking overtime pay for attending weekly City Council meetings.
In the past, Thomas said, city business administrators had taken comp time for attending the evening council meetings. But he said he decided he had too much city work to do to take the time off. Instead, he said, he took the money. “I’m prepared to reimburse the city for the overtime I may have erroneously took,’’ Thomas said.
Thomas also attributed some of his overtime to additional duties he had taken on as Paterson’s interim affirmative action officer. The business administrator’s track record of receiving overtime months before the flooding first was exposed in stories on PatersonPress.com that reported he received more than $23,000 in gross overtime payments this year.
But even as Thomas was backtracking on his non-emergency overtime, his testimony about the origins of the flood-related overtime payments that were made to himself and other city managers seemed to put him in conflict with testimony later given by Paterson’s Emergency Management Director Glenn Brown.
Thomas said he consulted with Brown during the flood on whether city directors were entitled to overtime that would be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Thomas said Brown told he that Brown himself had gotten overtime in a previous emergency as did a public works director.
That conversation, Thomas said, precipitated the payroll submissions that produced the controversial overtime checks for Mayor Jeffrey Jones and his Cabinet members.
“In hindsight, I should have taken another step further,’’ Thomas said, and checked with FEMA.
But Brown - the second witness questioned by the city council on Thursday night - gave a different version of his discussion with Thomas. Brown acknowledged that he told Thomas about his own previous overtime, which he said happened back when he was in a part-time city position.
But Brown said he didn’t tell Thomas to put in for overtime himself or for other city managers. Brown also testified that at the city’s command center during the flood he reminded city managers to keep precise records of overtime payments so Paterson could be reimbursed for 75-percent of the expense by FEMA. But, he testified, he was making a general statement about employee payments and not a specific reference to department heads’ own personal time sheets.
Several times, Brown was asked whether he himself took overtime in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.
“That’s correct, I didn’t take it,’’ Brown said.
“Not only did you not take it, you knew that you weren’t entitled to it?’’ said Councilman Aslon Goow.
“Yeah,’’ said Brown.
During his testimony, Brown also said he had no role in producing the overtime checks for the floods for other city departments. Council members seemed to be pursuing that line of questioning as a rebuttal of Jones’ past comments that Brown’s office was responsible for the overtime checks.
The inquiry is scheduled to resume Friday at 7:30 pm at City Hall. Among the subpoenaed witnesses who have not yet been called to testify are Jones, Police Chief James Wittig, Finance Director Anthony Zambrano, Public Works Director Christopher Coke, Health and Human Services Director Donna Nelson-Ivy, Community Development Director Lanisha Makle, Budget Director Russell Forenza, and Deputy Emergency Management Director Rhonda Thompson.
For the past two nights, the witnesses-in-waiting have been required to be at City Hall for the proceedings, but are not allowed to be in the council chambers during testimony.
During his testimony, Thomas was accompanied by his lawyer, prominent Passaic County criminal defense attorney Miles Feinstein.
Feinstein gave an opening statement in which he said Thomas had “no intention of doing something untoward, wrong or illegal.’’
In hindsight, Feinstein said Thomas realized it was “unfair to get any overtime” during the “devastation and hardship” caused by the flooding. Feinstein said Thomas felt “completely remorseful.’’
“He’s wanted to say this for a long time,’’ Feinstein said.