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After Seven Months of Scrutiny, Politically-Connected Teacher Resigns From City Technology Director Position

Joe Malinconico / PatersonPress.com

Monday, September 26, 2011 • 1:56pm

PATERSON, NJ – Kenneth Sumter, whose dual jobs for the city and school district triggered four different government inquiries, has resigned as Paterson’s technology director, officials confirmed on Monday.

Sumter has been a lightning rod for controversy since last winter. That’s when it came to light that he was being paid $50,000 to serve as Mayor Jeffrey Jones’ technology director while he continued to collect a full-time salary and benefits worth $87,696 from Paterson Public Schools, where he was on the payroll as a teacher at Eastside High.

In July, a state education department audit report said school district officials gradually reduced Sumter’s duties at Eastside, eventually telling him he could leave the school early or not report to work at all, allowing him extra time to take care of his duties with the city.

Sumter could not be reached for comment. His wife, Shavonda Sumter, had been Jones’ mayoral campaign manager. She is now running for a seat in the New Jersey Assembly.

Jones did not return a call on Monday seeking his comment on Sumter’s departure.

“You know more than I know,’’ Jones said on Saturday, when word of Sumter’s resignation already began to spread through the city. “Ken hasn’t told me he’s resigning. Unless he tells me he’s resigning, I’m not going to say that.’’

Councilman Benjie Wimberly, Shavonda Sumter’s running mate on the Democratic Assembly ticket in the 35th District, said early Monday afternoon that he heard talk that Sumter was leaving, but had yet not confirmed it was true.

The city council is planning to conduct an investigation into the circumstances of Sumter’s hiring last September. Sumter’s city appointment was supposed to be part of service swap with the school district. In return for Sumter, the city police department was going to check in at Paterson schools as part of its routine patrols. But the agreement was never approved by either the city council or Board of Education and eventually was scrapped when opposition arose to Sumter’s dual jobs.

The school district’s in-house inquiry of the Sumter situation found that he had broken no policies.

Meanwhile, Sumter’s appointment, along with several other city hirings, had not received the requisite approval from the state Department of Community Affairs and as a result the state has withheld $100,000 of Paterson’s aid from last year.

Most recently, Sumter was among the high-ranking city officials – including Mayor Jeffrey Jones – who received overtime checks for their work during flood relief efforts. After stirring a firestorm of controversy, those checks are being returned, officials said.

During the disaster, Sumter took unpaid leave from his teaching job, school officials said. Jones had asked state-appointed school superintendent Donnie Evans for Sumter's help getting the city's communications systems restored, officials said.

"Dr. Evans permitted Mr. Sumter to assist in this capacity provided Mr. Sumter apply for unpaid leave until he could return.  He did so – and he returned today (Monday),'' said Paterson Public Schools spokeswoman Terry Corallo. "The City and the District worked collaboratively to help the citizens of Paterson recover from this devastating storm."

It was not clear whether Sumter resigned from his city position effective Friday or Monday and what reason Sumter gave in tending his resignation. “My sense is that the reason he gives might not be aligned with the actual reason,’’ said Councilman Kenneth Morris.

“He did the right thing,’’ Councilman Andre Sayegh said of Sumter’s resignation. Sayegh said he believed Sumter’s involvement in the overtime mess precipitated his departure.

Morris said he believed the council ought to continue with its plans to investigate Sumter’s hiring. “I believe the problem has less to do with Ken Sumter than how Ken Sumter came to be in that position,’’ said Morris of the shared services agreement.

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