[Editor’s note: New information has been added to the bottom of this story.]
PATERSON, NJ - During testimony that lasted 150 minutes, Mayor Jeffrey Jones acknowledged to the City Council Wednesday night that he is not entitled to overtime and asserted that he never thought he was.
Jones said the time sheets that generated his $6,144 overtime check for flood relief efforts were filled out by his confidential aide, Charles Pettiford, without his knowledge, without his approval and without his signature. When asked by Councilman Kenneth Morris whether he considered that as an accepted practice, Jones said, "In hindsight, I would have to say, no, I'm not happy.''
Jones’ testimony started at 10:15 pm Wednesday and continued until 12:45 am Thursday, the only pause being a 10-minute break to allow city employees to change the videotape. The session featured frequent bouts of verbal sparring, occasion diatribes by council members against the mayor and very little in terms of new factual information about the overtime controversy.
Jones was the 12th person to testify in the hearings that have gone on for five sessions and about 20 hours so far.
“I’m not entitled to any additional compensation or overtime,’’ said Jones. “I know it. My staff knows it.’’
Council members asked Jones about comments he initially made to the press in the first days of the controversy, which they said showed he was at least ambivalent about whether he was entitled to the extra pay. For example, in a September interview with PatersonPress.com, two days after he received his overtime check, Jones said: “My time is all documented. I’m not going to hurt myself or my family to appease certain interests. I’m not going to be a fool.’’
During Wednesday’s hearing, the mayor told the council his comments referred to whether Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) guidelines allowed him to receive overtime, not whether his job as mayor entitled him to the extra money.
“As mayor, it’s my job to be here no matter what or when,’’ Jones said. The mayor said he was less certain whether his Cabinet members should get overtime because he said the city’s policies on that issue were unclear.
“That’s a good question, that’s a great question,’’ Jones testified. “I believe that’s what we’re here to find out.’’
In September, the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs has said that Jones and his top managers were not entitled to overtime and instructed city officials to return the pay.
During questions from his closest ally on the city council, Benjie Wimberly, Jones said the overtime controversy had become a distraction for Paterson, one that has placed “a heavy burden” on his staff and may have cost the city some economic opportunities because of the negative publicity it has generated.
Wimberly asked Jones what he wanted to say to Patersonians about the situation.
“I’m sorry,’’ Jones responded. “I am truly sorry that anybody had to experience this…I’m sorry that folks may have lost confidence in government and we’re going to make every attempt to make sure that never happens again.’’
Even those comments triggered a dispute. Councilman Anthony Davis welcomed the mayor’s word, saying, “I’ve waited several weeks to hear you apologize to the residents.’’ But Councilman Aslon Goow took a much harsher position: “We’re beyond apologies.’’
The flood overtime hearings are scheduled to resume Thurs., Dec. 15 at 8:30 pm. Morris, who is spearheading the inquiry, said Jones would be called again to testify. But it won’t be on Thursday. Jones and Police Chief James Wittig already have been excused from the session because they have been subpoenaed to appear in a municipal court case involving the Paterson Pulse and a city police officer that the monthly publication had called “the Hitler Cop.’’
In other news at Wednesday night’s hearing:
- A Community Development clerk was removed from payroll duties after she asked for documents to back up the overtime submitted by her boss, Lanisha Makle.
- Business Administrator Charles Thomas testified that he mandated a limit be placed on city managers’ overtime pay during the floods. But records show that cap was not applied to the time sheets for the mayor or his aide.
- The City Council has subpoenaed the seven police officers who collected the most overtime during Paterson’s flood crisis.
Jones’ testimony began with a discussion of his professional career, and whether he had served in “exempt” or “non-exempt” positions in the past.
In response to questions about Pettiford, Jones said the city changed his job title from chief of staff to confidential aide, partly in response to public criticism of the creation of a job that had not previously existed and partly to satisfy state job title requirements.
Jones then was asked about his decision to appoint Betty Taylor as personnel director. Her job performance and qualifications have come under a microscope during the council hearings. “I guess I’d have to think about what you mean by appointment,’’ Jones said at first. Upon further questioning, Jones said he put Taylor in the position because she had prior experience and the city needed someone in the job as soon as possible and didn’t have time for a full-scale hiring search.
When asked if he interviewed Taylor himself, Jones said, “I talked to her. You can consider it as an interview.’’ But the mayor acknowledged he did not review Taylor’s resume, saying he already was familiar with her work for the city.
Next, Jones was asked about situations in which subordinates handled their bosses’ overtime and payroll documents. “I don’t participate in payroll issues,’’ the mayor said.
When asked about information on the time sheet Pettiford filled out for Jones’ overtime, the mayor responded, “I couldn’t tell you what that means…It’s not my document.’’
At one point, Morris asked Jones another question about the payroll process, asserting that he was looking for a “yes or no” answer. Jones responded, “It’s yes. It’s no. It’s I don’t know because I’ve never seen the work done.’’
The mayor repeatedly told the council that he does not micro manage the city’s day-to-day operations, but leaves that in the hands of people he feels are capable of handling those details.
When asked by Councilman Julio Tavarez whether he knew of other mayors in New Jersey or Passaic County who receive overtime during the crisis, Jones responded, “How would I know the answer to that question?’’
When asked by Councilman Andre Sayegh whether he plans to “reprimand” Pettiford for submitting overtime on his behalf, the mayor said, “As mayor, I’m going to take a look at the whole process. That may not just include Mr. Pettiford.’’
During his turn to question the mayor, Councilman Rigo Rodriguez called Jones’ testimony “deceiving.’’ Rodriguez suggested that Jones’ unfamiliarity with Pettiford’s signature was a sign of “incompetence.’’
More often than not, Rodriguez’ questions were loaded with criticism of Jones and combined multiple queries in one long sentence. Jones seemed perturbed but did not lash out against the councilman. “I don’t understand the question,’’ the mayor said more than once.
In response to Councilman William McKoy’s questions about the flood overtime payments, Jones called the situation a “small instant…that doesn’t reflect how the city operates by no stretch of the imagination.’’
McKoy took offense. “I wouldn’t say it’s a small thing,’’ McKoy responded, saying the controversy had damaged Paterson’s reputation. Jones then backtracked on his use of the word “small.’’
McKoy also asked Jones about his administration’s decision to combine the payroll and personnel operations – a move that McKoy has said has produced situation that could easily end in abuses of the public payroll. At first, Jones seemed to say the two offices were not combined by his administration, but then he said that payroll would be moved back to the finance department’s oversight.
Goow was the last councilman to question Jones. But mostly he made accusations against the mayor rather than asked questions.
“You’re the only one that didn’t submit a time sheet,’’ Goow said, referring to Jones’ statements that Pettiford did that for him. “It doesn’t make sense.’’
After Thursday night, the City Council’s next overtime hearing has been scheduled for Wed., Dec. 21 at 6:30 pm