PATERSON, NJ – In effort to fend off a lawsuit filed by the Policemen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), the City Council on Tuesday night decided to conduct an audit of the Paterson police department’s payroll and overtime.
The lawsuit stems from the council’s decision earlier this year to hold back about $269,000 in police overtime on the argument that the administration had not provided documentation to substantiate the payments. After a three-month freeze, the council relented in June and signed off on the payments, a decision reached under the pressure of a federal lawsuit filed by the police union.
The litigation continues because the union is seeking damages for the delayed payments as well as changes in the city’s overtime approval process.
“It’s not only the damages, we want to make sure this doesn’t happen again,’’ said Alex Cruz, president of Paterson PBA, Local #1. Cruz referred other questions about the lawsuit to the union’s lawyers.
Councilman Kenneth Morris said he thought lawsuit was an attempt by the union to undermine the council’s ability to oversee overtime and other police department spending. “I’m fearful of the fact that this about diluting the authority and the power of the legislative body when it comes to the purse-strings of the city,’’ Morris said.
Part of the reason the council withheld the $269,000 in police overtime earlier this year was in response to police officers’ refusal at that time to participate in the council’s inquiry on city overtime spending during the historic 2011 floods. In fact, for a five-month period from November 2011 until March 2012 the council refused to approve a separate batch of $209,000 in overtime for police officers and other city employees for hours they say worked in the aftermath of the flooding.
Council members have complained that there are not enough checks and balances to ensure the authenticity of the police overtime. They questioned the overtime process during the floods and how various officers were picked for extra duty. Council members said there were apparent inequities in the distribution of the overtime.
PatersonPress.com found city records that showed one police officer was paid for working 18 hours of overtime on six consecutive days during the flooding.
During the 2012 fiscal year, Paterson spent $1.6 million on police overtime, about $314,000 more than what had been budgeted, according to city records. Preliminary figures for the 2013 budget put police overtime at $1.7 million.
Councilman William McKoy, an auditor by trade, has argued that the police department’s overtime monitored more closely by city financial officials. McKoy on Tuesday night called the PBA’s lawsuit “selfish” and “greedy.” He said the litigation would create “additional burden to an overtaxed community” because the police officers’ “ice wasn’t cold enough.’’ He called the lawsuit “an affront to the council.’’
On Tuesday, the council approved a $15,000 increase in its auditing contract with the firm of Donohue, Gironda & Doria to review the police overtime and payroll records.