Council Looks To Cut Pay For Mayor and Cabinet

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Mayor Jeffrey Jones
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 PATERSON, NJ – Mayor Jeffrey Jones’ salary would be reduced by $24,000 and five of his top administrators also face significant pay cuts under a City Council plan that gained preliminary approval Tuesday night.

The council also took an initial step towards suspending longevity and cost-of-living pay increases for all city employees.

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The two ordinances represent some of the fallout from the city’s recent budget battles during which the council unsuccessfully had tried to convince Jones to cut administrative salaries.

Council President Aslon Goow and Councilman Kenneth Morris, the finance chairman, said the two proposals were designed as a step towards preventing another city fiscal crisis next year.

“We just don’t have the money,’’ Morris said of the reductions.

But Jones’ Business Administrator, Charles Thomas, disputed that explanation for the cuts. “There’s no longer this deficit, we solved the deficit,’’ said Thomas, who faces the largest pay cut under the proposal.  “To present that we’re going to roll back the salaries because of the deficit is faulty.’’

Five council members voted in favor of the moves – Anthony Davis, Goow, Morris, Rigo Rodriguez, and Andre Sayegh. Three voted against them – Vera Ames-Garnes, William McKoy and Benjie Wimberly. Councilman Julio Tavarez had left the council chambers shortly before the votes. Later on,Tavarez said he supported the principle of the pay cuts, but questioned what he considered one inconsistency in the plan.

The ordinances are scheduled for a public hearing and final vote on April 19.

Meanwhile, two of Jones' appointees whose jobs became targets of controversy also will be getting pay cuts, Thomas said. The salary for the mayor’s chief of staff Charles Pettiford would drop by $15,000, down to $90,000, while Technology Director Kenneth Sumter, who also holds a full-time teaching position with Paterson Public Schools, would have his pay reduced by $5,000, down to $45,000.

Thomas said Sumter's position would be downgraded from 35-hour-per-week full-time status to 21-hour-per-week part-time status. That means Sumter will end up being paid more money per hour than he did when he was full-time. But Thomas insisted that Sumter would work far more than 21 hours per week without extra compensation.

Under the proposed salary ordinance, the city council is seeking to return the starting pay of the mayor, the council members and top administrators to the amounts set in a 2004 law. The reductions would apply to officials who took their jobs in the past year, and not to people who have been in their positions for years and have exceeded the proposed starting pay through raises they received over the years.

Here are the changes that would take place if the ordinance gets adopted:

*Jones'  salary would drop from $119,000 to $95,000.

*Thomas' salary would drop from $114,400 to $88,152.

*Department of Public Works Director Christopher Coke’s salary would drop from $105,000 to $83,773.

*City Corporation Counsel Paul Forsman’s salary would drop from $96,430 to $76,366.

*Health and Human Services Director Donna Nelson-Ivy’s salary would drop from $84,790 to $71,741.

*Community Development Director Lanisha Makle’s salary would drop from $78,190 to $71,741.

In every case but Makle’s, the new salaries would match the figures set in 2004. Makle’s current pay of $78,190 is, in fact, what the 2004 ordinance set for her job.

But Morris, who frequently has questioned Makle’s credentials for the job and occasionally criticized her performance, said he felt her salary should be downgraded to match that of the health and human services direct to achieve “parity.’’

Thomas argued that the council also attain parity by raising the salary for the health and human service director, rather than cutting Makle’s pay.

Tavarez said he would have preferred that the proposed new salary ordinance set Makle’s pay at the $78,190 called for in the 2004 ordinance.

As a counter proposal to the new salary ordinance, the Jones' administration is suggesting the council adopt a resolution series of pay ranges for the mayor and his administrators to give the mayor more flexibility in hiring qualified people. It wasn't clear by 10:30 pm Tuesday night whether that plan would first be vetted by the council's finance committee, or if it would come up for a vote at next week's council meeting.

Meanwhile, the vote to give preliminary approval to the ordinance that would suspend longevity and cost-of-living pay increases was 8-1, with only Wimberly voting against it. Wimberly said he was concerned about the legal ramifications of the plan and he also wanted to know how much money it would save the city.

“I don’t think we want to be in a position where we end up paying more in legal fees than we realize in savings,’’ Wimberly said.

Thomas warned the council that the city would have problems, and face potential litigation, if it attempted to impose the longevity freeze on its many labor unions and their current contracts. Only about 40 city workers are not covered by a labor contract, Thomas told the council.

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