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Update: Court Ruling Allows City Council To Move Forward With OT Disciplinary Hearings

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File photo from last year's hearings
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PATERSON, NJ – The City Council plans to convene disciplinary hearings tonight against four top municipal officials after a judge refused to grant Mayor Jeffrey Jones’ request for an injunction blocking the proceedings.

The discipline proceedings will focus on the officials’ roles in issuing and receiving flood overtime checks last year as well as their testimony in the subsequent hearings on the controversy.

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“The judge said the city council can suspend, admonish or terminate every employee in the City of Paterson whether they’re civil service or not,’’ said Councilman Kenneth Morris.

The ruling by New Jersey Superior Court Judge Thomas F. Brogan was rendered almost seven hours before the disciplinary hearings are scheduled to begin at 6:30 pm.

“I believe the council does have the right to terminate,'' Brogan said, according to a story on northjersey.com. "I believe it also has the right, even though it is not enumerated, to suspend.”

Jones last week had filed a lawsuit to try to prevent the proceedings. In the papers, Jones says the city council has “run afoul” of its powers under a city law that authorized last year’s flood overtime hearings and is attempting to usurp powers of the executive branch of municipal government. The lawsuit also attempted to block the city council from taking a “no confidence” vote on Jones.

When contacted shortly after the ruling, Jones said he was not in court and was not aware of the details of the decision. “Whatever the judges says, I’m okay with it,’’ said Jones. When asked why he did not attend the proceeding, the mayor said, “I’ve got to run the city.’’

A city council report issued in February as a result of the flood hearings recommended the termination of Mayor Jeffrey Jones’ Chief of Staff, Charles Pettiford, and his Personnel Director, Betty Taylor. It also called for unpaid suspensions to be imposed on Business Administrator Charles Thomas and Community Development Director Lanisha Makle. The report questions Taylor’s competence, says she received inappropriate overtime, and accuses her of allowing city employees to receive overtime without proper documentation or verification.

The report says that Pettiford’s job is superfluous and should be eliminated. It says Thomas breached in his fiduciary responsibility to the city by taking on extra duties and paying himself overtime for them. It accuses Makle of misrepresenting her time sheets and taking inappropriate overtime.

When asked for comment on Brogan's ruling, Thomas said, "I haven't spoken to my attorney yet.'' Thomas said he planned to attend tonight's proceeding. Pettiford, Makle and Taylor have not yet responded to emails from PatersonPress.com asking whether they would attend.

Morris, meanwhile, said he felt vindicated by Brogan’s ruling  “and so should the Paterson taxpayers.’’

City Council President said he was happy with the ruling. "What we're trying to do is the right thing, to keep the checks and balances,'' said Davis. "I'm tired of this overtime, the public is tired of this overtime. We want people to see we're not trying to hide anything.''

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