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Under Fire, Mayor Calls the City Council's Overtime Report the Product of a Biased Probe

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PATERSON, NJ – Responding to the harsh condemnations the City Council directed against his administration in its flood overtime report, Mayor Jeffrey Jones said on Thursday that he believed the probe reflected his critics’ orchestrated plan to attack him.

Jones argued that the hearings were “poorly and ineptly” run and tainted by violations of city officials’ rights and biased questions.

“At the outset, I referred to this as a kangaroo court,’’ Jones said. “I think my comments have been vindicated by the outcome.’’

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“From what I read,’’ Jones said of the report, “I didn’t see one recommendation about the processes that need to be fixed. It’s all about people. This was designed and determined to attack people and to attack this administration.’’

Jones said the report could have been written without the hearings because "that was their intent all along.''

The seven hearings last November and December focused on more than $50,000 worth of overtime checks issued to Jones and his top managers last September for their response to the city’s historic floods.  Jones gave his check back after the state said he should do so. The state has given other city managers until March 1 to come up with a repayment plan to return the overtime the state says they improperly received for the flood work as well as for other city work.

The City Council’s report, which was made public on Wednesday, asserts that Jones and his staff accepted overtime checks they knew they were not entitled to get. It also highlights various failings in the city’s payroll process, particularly the system for approving overtime.

As a result of the hearings, the Council is planning to launch dismissal hearings against Jones’ chief of staff, Charles Pettiford, and his personnel director, Betty Taylor; to impose unpaid suspensions against his business administrator, Charles Thomas, and community development director, Lanisha Makle; and to seek a vote of no confidence in the mayor himself.

When asked about Jones’ comments, City Council Finance Chairman Kenneth Morris, who spearheaded the hearings and wrote the subsequent report, said, “The committee provided a fair and unbiased opportunity to city department heads to present their cases. The testimony that was given and the findings based on that testimony are irrefutable and totally support the recommendations of the council with regard to the erroneous overtime payments made to the mayor and his staff.’’

Morris is planning an ambitious schedule for the city council to enact the recommendations of its report. He said he planned to hold a public hearing on the document in early March. By the end of the month, Morris said he hoped to complete the disciplinary hearings against Pettiford, Taylor, Thomas and Makle.

None of those of four officials responded to emails from PatersonPress.com seeking their response to the city council’s findings.

Also in March, Morris said the council would enact a variety of resolutions designed to reform Paterson’s overtime process. The report also recommended:

  • The council adopt a resolution that Cabinet-level positions will not be entitled to overtime compensation.
  • The city enact a policy stipulating that municipal employees called in to work when the city is shut down for an emergency would be compensated at their normal rate of pay and given compensatory time for hours worked, rather than overtime.
  • That senior level staff positions be considered to be on-call positions. “If these employees are given a paid scheduled day off on a day that would be considered a normal work day and are called into work they will received no additional compensation beyond their normal rate of pay unless required by an existing contractual agreement.”
  • That the mayor provide written attestation to all overtime hours worked by members of cabinet.
  • That the Division of Payroll be placed under the jurisdiction of the Department of Finance.
  • The Administration implement a policy that all employees utilize the hand scanner (Time-Track System) to record hours worked as a condition of employment and as a condition of being paid for hours worked.
  • That all legal options be explored to reprimand those officers who willing refused to abide by the order to appear.
  • That a citywide policy be immediately implemented which expressly prohibits an individual employee from self-approving overtime hours worked.
  • That the Business Administrator be the only city official with the authority to verify the mayor’s work hours. The Committee also orders that within 24 hours a copy of the approval of those hours worked by the Mayor be forwarded to the Chair of the Finance Committee.

Jones said the City Council had failed to fulfill its other responsibilities by expending so much time and effort on the overtime probe. “This is just one small, small piece in the grand scale,’’ the mayor said. “There’s crime, economic development, housing, health. When are they going to do something about them? Where are the ordinances and resolutions to address those issues?’’

Morris responded that the city council was “anxious to support any economic development pans that make sense. The administration has yet to bring anything to us.’’

 

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