PATERSON, NJ – Mayor Jeffrey Jones and three of his top aides were paid double time for more than 100 hours during the historic flooding that hit Paterson almost two months ago, according to city payroll records.
Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the flood, at least a dozen city workers and managers were paid overtime for working during regular weekday business hours, the records show.
And the time sheets for the employee who collected Paterson’s largest overtime check, police officer Kelly Hemming, say he worked 18 hours of overtime for six consecutive days.
That’s some of the information PatersonPress.com found on Thursday during a review of the city’s flood overtime payroll documents, which were made available in response to an Open Public Records Act request.
“I can see now why they don’t want to give me my discovery,’’ said Councilman Kenneth Morris, when asked about the information in the time sheets. “It seems like we’re going to find all kinds of things.’’
Morris said Thursday night he had not yet received from the Jones administration documents he requested as part of the city council’s inquiry into the controversial flood overtime. After more than 90 minutes of discussion, the city council on Thursday decided to suspend its hearings on the flood overtime until officials retained special legal counsel.
Paterson's Corporation Counsel Paul Forsman, who advises both the administration and city council, recused himself from the proceedings because of the likelihood he would find himself in conflict as lawyer for two entities at odds over the overtime issue.
On September 23, Paterson issued $756,000 worth of flood overtime checks to 609 employees, including the mayor and top managers. In reviewing the time sheets and other payroll documents in support of those checks, PatersonPress.com found the paper trail cluttered with inconsistencies.
From one city department to the next, there was no uniformity in the way officials filled out the forms. The fire department, for example, merely turned in a list of names with each employee’s total overtime hours for the combined two weeks. The animal control division, on the other hand, included with his overtime requisition a detailed log of all work performed, including the time, location and type of animal.
Some departments provided a daily entry showing the starting and ending times for all employees and a description of what tasks they performed for the day. Others simply filled in the number of overtime hours for their workers for each day of the week.
Some time sheets were signed by three supervisors, others by two and some by just one. Department heads pretty much signed their own time sheets, without anyone else signing off.
The Jones administration has issued a press release saying it would not comment on the overtime situation until after the city council completes its probe.
"You know I can't answer your questions,'' said Business Administrator Charles Thomas. During Thursday's hearing, prominent Passaic County defense attorney Miles Feinstein stood in the audience. He said he had been retained by Thomas. When PatersonPress.com attempted to ask Thomas questions, Feinstein intervened. "My client has done nothing wrong,'' he said.
The time sheets for Jones and his chief of staff, Charles Pettiford, showed 75 hours at “T/H” or time-and-a-half, and 30 hours at “D.T.,” or double time. Thomas had 75 time-and-a-half hours and 23 at double time. Purchasing Director Harry Cevallos had 60 time-and-half hours and 30 at double time.
Kenneth Sumter, who was Technology Director until he resigned because of the overtime scandal, had 77.5 time-and-a-half hours and 30 at double time. Sumter, who said in his September 23 resignation letter that he “never expected or asked for reimbursement” for flood work, signed the time sheet that included his overtime on September 16.
Other than Jones, Pettiford, Thomas, Cevallos and Sumter, the only other city employees paid double time were rank-and-file members of the public works department who worked weekends, according to the records.
City department heads and Jones, who received a $6,144 overtime check after deductions, returned the flood money after the state intervened and said the overtime payments were improper.
Meanwhile, two department heads – Community Development Director Lanisha Makle and Health and Human Services Director Donna Nelson-Ivy - were among those employees whose time sheets show they received overtime for normal business hours.
From Tues., Aug. 30 through Fri., Sept. 2, city offices were closed because of the flooding. The records show that employees and managers from the community development and health and human services departments and the animal control division who worked during regular business hours on those days were paid overtime on top of their regular salaries.
For example, Makle’s time sheet said she worked from 9 am until 9 pm on Wed., Aug. 31. All 12 hours were listed as overtime. Nelson-Ivy’s time sheet showed she worked from 8 am until 10 pm that same Wednesday. All her hours also were on overtime, the records showed.
Makle and Nelson-Ivy declined to answer questions on the overtime.
Payroll records for animal control also showed overtime for normal business hours. In the cover sheet submitted to the city’s payroll office, Animal Control Officer John DeCando wrote: “This overtime during the State of Emergency was discussed and approved by Director Glenn Brown.’’
Brown, the city’s police, fire and emergency management director, said he believed the overtime stemmed from contractural obligations under a provision paying employees overtime if they were called to work while off.
It was not clear whether other city departments followed the practice of paying overtime for regular business hours while city hall was closed for flooding because their records did not provide any detail on the specific hours employees worked.
Morris objected to the practice. “It’s crazy,’’ he said. In weather emergencies at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center, where he works, Morris said some workers are deemed nonessential and told to stay home, while employees considered essential are required to report for work without getting paid overtime.
It was not clear on Thursday whether Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines say whether employees who report for work while government offices are closed show be paid overtime for that.
The police department received the biggest share of the $756,000 in flood overtime and seven of the city’s employees with the top 10 largest checks were cops, including Kelly Hemming who was number 1, with a $7,002 check after deductions.
The police department’s overtime records show Hemming put in for 16 hours of overtime on Sun., Aug. 28, the day the hurricane hit New Jersey. Then, Hemming put in for 18 hours of overtime for each of the next six days, according to the records.
The records did not show what became of Hemming’s regular work shifts during that period, or if he were on leave during that time period.
When asked about Hemmings' overtime, Brown said, "I can't answer that unless I look at the time sheets.''
The officer with the second highest check, $6,306 after deductions, was Antonio Blasucci. The payroll records show Blasucci received six hours of overtime on Mon., Aug. 29 and then 18 hours of overtime for each of the next five days.
Lazzaro Mazzo, whose $5,740 check put him among the top 10 overtime earners, worked 18 hours of overtime for four days straight, the records show.
“This is what I’m talking about,’’ said Morris. “There are only so many hours in a day.’’