PATERSON, NJ – The City Council imposed punishment Thursday night on two more high-ranking city officials for their roles in Paterson’s overtime scandal.
Acting Personnel Director Betty Taylor was fired and Community Development Lanisha Makle suspended for 90 days under resolutions approved by 6-0 city council votes. Those decisions came a day after the council voted to terminate Chief of Staff Charles Pettiford and suspend Business Administrator Charles Thomas for 60 days.
In all, four of Mayor Jeffrey Jones' appointees were penalized by the City Council.
“I’m not terribly surprised, I think the council acts without bounds,’’ said Neal Brunson, the attorney who represented Taylor, Makle and Pettiford in the proceedings. “It almost seems as though they want to create confrontation. I don’t know if that’s the proper exercise of their legislative function.’’
A city council report on the overtime issued during last year’s historic floods accused Taylor and Makle of conspiring to produce bogus timesheets for Makle’s overtime. A New Jersey Department of Community Affairs report on Paterson’s overtime spending said Taylor was doing a poor job and should be replaced.
In addition to being the city’s acting personnel director, Taylor also holds the civil service position of assistant personnel director. Brunson said the union representing Taylor in that job title, the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, likely would file an appeal contesting her termination.
Also, Jones has said that he is looking into whatever options he has to prevent his managers from being fired and suspended. Jones had filed a lawsuit to try to block the proceedings, but a Superior Court judge ruled against him on Wednesday.
Taylor, whose salary is $81,947, also had collected more than 200 hours of overtime in 2011 unrelated to the floods. Makle’s salary is $78,190. She stands to lose about $19,500 as a result of the 90-day suspension.
“My department is going to be hurt,’’ said Makle when PatersonPress.com asked for her reaction to the suspension. “There’s a lot of projects that I’m working on, including the flood buyout program. Those residents are going to be put on hold until I return.’’
Taylor and Makle have been engulfed in controversy before. Makle in 2010 approved $43,000 in federal housing repair funds for Taylor despite the fact that her new job as personnel director boosted her pay above the limit for the program. That situation reportedly sparked a federal inquiry, the outcome of which has not been made public.
Councilman Kenneth Morris, who spearheaded the council’s flood inquiry, acknowledged the gravity of the discipline that was imposed
“None of us ran for office to be judge, jury and prosecutor,’’ Jones said. “We are legislators.’’
Morris said the council could not please everyone. “There are some folks who felt that we should have terminated everyone,’’ Morris said. “The facts did not support that for everyone.’’
Morris said the council tried not to make the inquiry into a rivalry. “This was not about the 3rd Floor versus the 2nd Floor,’’ Morris said, referring to the parts of city hall where the council and administration officials have their offices.
Morris also said he hoped the proceedings would change the mayor’s understanding of his duties to work with the city council. “If he does not have that understanding, you can make your voices known in 2014,’’ the year of the next mayoral election, Morris said.