November 9, 2012 at 7:04 AM
PATERSON, NJ – The civil service expert who City Council members say was supposed to clean up Paterson’s trouble-plagued personnel division has left the municipal payroll, officials said.
Steven Chestnut’s departure from the city’s assistant personnel director’s position has put Betty Taylor – the once-time acting personnel director whom the city council tried to fire earlier this year – back in charge of the division, officials said.
In addition to the city council, the Department of Community Affairs has said Taylor should not be running personnel. In a December report on Paterson’s overtime practices, the DCA said Taylor’s job performance “with respect to payroll functions has been extraordinarily poor” and that the city should seek someone “qualified” to replace her. The state report detailed some of the personnel department’s failures under Taylor, including discrepancies in timesheets, a lack of justification for overtime and errors such as adding extra zeros to pay checks that inflated their value tenfold.
Council members said they had hoped Chestnut would straighten out the situation in the personnel department and at least of them said they were unaware he had left the city’s payroll. Mayor Jeffrey Jones and City Council President Anthony Davis gave conflicting versions of Chestnut’s departure.
Jones said Chestnut simply had been working in Paterson on temporary assignment from the state and that he returned to Trenton as planned. “We got to straighten out some things,’’ Jones said. “He was on loan to us.’’
But Davis said Chestnut resigned in September because he was unhappy with some of things Taylor was doing. “He didn’t like what was going on and what was happening,’’ Davis said, adding that he wants to arrange a meeting with Chestnut to learn more details about the alleged problems.
When asked if there were problems between Chestnut and Taylor, Jones said, "I couldn't tell you about that. I'm sure there was a problem or two, but that's just the nature of things.''
For several months this year, Chestnut and Taylor simultaneously served as the city’s assistant personnel director. Now Taylor is back in charge by herself. “I hate to say it, but that’s what appears to be the case,’’ said Davis. “She does not need to be in charge with what happened in the past.’’
Under the state law detailing Paterson’s form of government, the city council has no authority over appointing division head positions, like the personnel director. That’s up to the mayor. When asked if the city has begun looking for a replacement for Chestnut, Jones said, “Right now we’re assessing some things.’’
Councilmen William McKoy, Kenneth Morris and Andre Sayegh said they were not aware of Chestnut’s departure and they said they were disappointed that Taylor was back in charge.
“It’s disappointing to learn that he left in September and here we are in November and we’ve been unaware of this,’’ said McKoy. “We’ve been under the impression that this individual (Chestnut) has been working on meeting our obligations in personnel with respect to implementing corporate policies and procedures.’’
Morris said his understanding was that Chestnut was a permanent city employee and not simply “on load” to Paterson. “Obviously, I have concerns about whether Betty Taylor is competent to handle the personnel department.’’
Sayegh said Chestnut was going to “bring stability” to personnel. “I have no confidence in her at all,’’ he said of Taylor. “We already fired her once.’’
That firing stemmed from the council’s findings that Taylor as acting personnel director took inappropriate overtime and that she conspired with another official to create a fraudulent improper timesheet. Taylor returned to the city payroll when a labor union successfully argued that she was entitled to return to her previous position of assistant personnel director because it was covered by civil service protections.
Taylor now is being paid $70,000, or about 13 percent less than the $81, 947 she was making as acting director. But the $70,000 salary represents a 27-percent compared to the $53,868 that she was making in December 2009 as assistant director, before she was promoted when Jones took office in July 2010.
Taylor is among several city managers who have not yet repaid overtime that the state and city council deemed improper. The state report said Taylor received almost $14,900 in such payments.
Last year, Taylor had been involved in another city controversy over the $43,000 in home repair funds she received from the Paterson Pride program, which is supposed to benefit people with low and moderate incomes. At her assistant director’s salary, Taylor qualified for the program. But the director’s salary put her above the income limit.
Taylor’s Paterson Pride funding had been approved by Community Development Director Lanisha Makle. The city council’s overtime report said Taylor had conspired with Makle to misrepresent Makle’s timesheet.