PATERSON, NJ – Paterson last year improperly paid more than $28,000 in overtime to four top city officials and they should pay the money back, the state directed Mayor Jeffery Jones in a released letter on Friday.
The payments, which were first exposed on PatersonPress.com, came during the Jones administration’s first year in office. Personnel Director Betty Taylor received $11,549 in appropriate overtime during that year, Public Works Director Christopher Coke received $7,786, Business Administrator Charles Thomas $7,440 and Health and Human Services Director Donna Nelson-Ivy $1,572, said the letter.
The state has said that manager should not receive overtime.
Those findings came as the conclusion of the state’s three-month review of Paterson’s payroll after the controversial flood overtime payments came to light. The state’s Dec. 15 letter – which in many ways affirmed the evidence that has been emerging from the ongoing City Council hearings – called for Jones to oust his current personnel director and hire a new one. The report in the letter outlined the many problems with the city’s handling overtime, including poor oversight, inadequate checks and balances, sloppy and insufficient record-keeping and outright improper payments.
"We've already begun to examine some things and we're making changes,'' Jones said, adding that his administration inherited a city government that was operating with many flaws.
Jones restated his argument that the flood overtime complied with the Federal Emergency Management Agency's guidelines, even though the state says the payments were improper. "It doesn't seem to fit the totality of things,'' he said.
The mayor said there's "an understanding that resitution has to be made" for what the state deems improper overtime. "I just have to figure out how we're going to do that,'' he said.
The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) also is requiring Taylor, Thomas and Coke to return overtime they have gotten since July 1, 20011 for duties not connected with the historic flooding. The state identified more than $54,000 in improper overtime paid to city officials this fiscal year, including the flood checks, the letter said.
In total, the letter identified more than $85,000 in improper overtime, including the flood payments that already have been returned.
The seven-page letter from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs also urged Jones to replace Taylor as personnel director and to look for “qualified applicants” for the job. The state said Taylor’s “performance with respect to payroll functions has been extraordinarily poor.’’
The letter said Taylor’s office issued three duplicate checks for the same overtime for one unnamed employee. Another Paterson worker received an $18,000 check for overtime that should have been for $1,800 and a third employee was paid $12,000 instead of $1,200, the letter said.
The state also criticized Taylor for inconsistencies that were found between employee sign-in sheets and payroll time sheets and for requiring little explanation or justification for the $2.2 million in overtime her division issued for Paterson in the three-and-a-half months between July 1 and October 14 of this year.
When asked about the state's call for Taylor's ouster, Jones said, "That's a recommendation.'' But, he also said that he has been reviewing the operations of various departments and may made some changes. When asked about the state's criticisms of Taylor's performance, the mayor said, "That's a personnel matter and I can't comment.''
The DCA letter found fault with Paterson’s practice of paying overtime to its budget director for the past two decades. That job is currently held by Russell Forenza. But the state did not call for Forenza to repay any of that money.
Taylor, Thomas, Coke and Nelson-Ivy all acknowledged during the City Council’s flood hearings that they have received overtime in addition to the disaster response checks.
Taylor, whose receipt of $43,000 in home repair funds through Paterson’s Community Development program has been the target of a federal investigation, told the council she received overtime because she’s a member of the union.
Thomas acknowledged getting overtime for attending city council meetings and for performing the duties of affirmative action officer. He said he had been taking the extra pay on the fact that his predecessor took comp time for the late hours at the sessions. Thomas offered during the hearing to return the money.
Coke said he was following the precedent of the previous director in getting overtime for work during extreme conditions like floods and blizzards. Coke argued during the hearing that he believed he was entitled to the extra pay.
Nelson-Ivy said she received overtime during spring floods and offered during the hearing to pay that back.
The letter, signed by the director of New Jersey’s Division of Local Government Services, Thomas Neff, called for Paterson’s finance director should oversee an audit of the flood overtime payments to ensure accuracy.
Neff also called on Paterson to review and revise its overtime policies and to implement much controls over the overtime process.