PATERSON, NJ – City Council members said Tuesday they are planning to conduct an investigation of the flood response overtime checks that were improperly issued to the mayor and six high-ranking municipal officials.
It also came to light during Tuesday’s City Council meeting that the size of the improper overtime payments and the number of officials who received them are both larger than originally known. Initial reports had focused on $21,000 in payments to four officials, including the mayor.
But Councilman Kenneth Morris said Tuesday night that $50,861 worth of overtime checks had been issued to the mayor and six of his cabinet members. The newly disclosed recipients were Public Works Director Christopher Coke, Community Development Director Lanisha Makle, and Health and Human Services Director Donna Nelson-Ivy. Also receiving checks were Chief of Staff Charles Pettiford, Business Administrator Charles Thomas, and recently-resigned Technology Director Kenneth Sumter.
The overtime checks, which officials said are being returned, were a frequent target of criticism during the public comment portion of the meeting.
“Shame on you,’’ said Carri Lazarus. “It’s embarrassing to live in Paterson today.’’
“The mayor is taking care of himself and his friends,’’ Lazarus added, calling the mayor’s explanation of the overtime checks an insult. “But he’s thumbing his nose at us, the people of Paterson.’’
John Harris, representing the Paterson branch of the NAACP, called for a “thorough review’’ of the overtime checks and said his group would want answers to “the tough questions of how and why this happened.’’
Early in the meeting, Jones provided a presentation on the city’s flood response and repeated his assertions that he didn’t “create” the overtime check and didn’t know they were being issued.
“The check process, the payroll process, the timesheets – that was all a part of the Office of Emergency Management (OEM),’’ Jones said.
But Councilman Aslon Goow Sr. questioned the mayor’s explanation. “The OEM didn’t assume anything,’’ Goow said. “There is no doubt that this incident requires an investigation.’’
“I want to know who signed the checks and authorized them,” said Councilman Rigo Rodriguez. “I want that to be investigated.’’
Rodriguez also questioned whether the mayor or department heads received overtime in previous flooding or during the blizzard that hit the city last winter.
Morris said the council should convene a “committee of the whole,’’ an investigative body of all council members which would have subpoena powers.
The New Jersey’s Division of Local Government Services has told the city the mayor and his managers should not have received overtime checks and that they should be returned. The state also is requiring the city to provide information on payments – including overtime, clothing allowances and expense reimbursements - issued during the previous fiscal year to all Paterson employees.
During the council meeting, some residents also criticized the city’s handling of lingering problems from the floods.
The Rev. Stafford Miller said the city has gone a poor job collecting trash and debris in the aftermath of the flooding, especially in his area of the 1st Ward.
“If this is the best we can do, we’re in trouble with leadership,’’ Miller said. “It’s unfair for children to have to walk to school with a handkerchief over their nose because of the smell of trash.’’