PATERSON, NJ – In the aftermath of last week’s walk-out, Mayor Jeffrey Jones said he will attend Thursday’s City Council hearing on flood overtime, but he’s not sure whether he’ll agree to testify.
“It depends on the information I get,’’ the mayor said, referring to the payroll documents and other records that the council has requested from the administration as part its “discovery” for the hearing.
Jones said he likely would not answer the council members’ questions at the hearing if he didn’t have the documents beforehand, with time to examine them.
“If they want this to be a fact-finding exercise, then they should wait for the facts,’’ Jones said.
Jones isn’t the only one anxious to see the discovery, which is supposed to be provided by his own staff. Councilman Kenneth Morris, who is leading the inquiry, has criticized Jones’ administration for being slow to provide the documents, which council members say are routine records that should be easy to produce. Among the material requested were overtime requisition forms and a payoll sheet that would include all employees’ salaries and overtime earnings.
Jones said his staff was working “diligently” to prepare the requested records, but said in a press release “we must be mindful that the day-to-day operations of the city continue.’’
Jones’ press release said he intended to testify on Wednesday night when the city council launched its investigation of the controversial flood overtime, including the $6,144 check issued to the mayor. But the mayor said “it became clear that the hastily called meeting could have been in violation of municipal employees’ rights. The pointing out of this potentially problematic situation went unheeded. At this point, the mayor became uncomfortable with continuing to participate in the proceedings.’’
In response to the mayor’s walk-out, the city council is considering taking a vote of “no confidence” in Jones and is talking about filing a court order to compel him and his staff to testify. Council members disagreed with Jones’ assertion that the walk-out was spontaneous, saying that it seemed to be an orchestrated move.
The city council first announced it would conduct the inquiry on September 30 and notices were sent to the first wave of witnesses, including Jones and administrators in his inner circle, on October 14, five days before the first hearing was scheduled. Jones argued that was not enough time for his staff to consult with attorneys, if they felt they needed to.
In fact, during preliminary public discussions of the investigation process, City Corporation Council Paul Forsman had said that witnesses could ask to have their testimony delayed until they had chance to retain a lawyer. He also said employees could opt to exercise their 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination.
At the hearing, Jones gave a opening statement detailing his criticisms of the hearing process and asked that the proceedings be delayed until October 31. Morris rejected that request and Jones stood up from the witness table and walked out of the council chambers.
Jones ignored Morris, who called for him to remain in the room. “”I find it interesting that you want to protest the employees, but not the taxpaters of Paterson,’’ Morris said as the mayor left the room.
It was not clear why Jones and his staff simply didn’t go through the formal and orderly process of taking the oath as witnesses and then invoking their right to have legal counsel for the proceedings. Instead, the proceeding turned into a circus when Jones tried to have his staff released from a side office where they had been sequestered and Morris sent a city police officer to prevent the mayor from doing that.