City Has Spent More Than $29,000 Negotiating Wittig's Retirement Payout
Friday, January 18, 2013 • 11:13am
PATERSON, NJ – Almost a year after James Wittig retired, Paterson’s former police chief and city officials are still negotiating his severance package.
The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) rejected a proposed $249, 782 retirement deal that Wittig and city officials had worked out in December 2011. At the time, the DCA said there was no reason for the city to give Wittig a buyout package when he would have to step down in a few months anyway because of the state law that mandates police retire at age 65.
The city has spent more than $29,000 on legal fees negotiating Wittig’s retirement, according to information Paterson provided to PatersonPress.com under an Open Public Records Act request. Most of those fees were incurred in 2010. The bills for the first 11 months of 2012 were less than $1,000.
But city officials say Wittig still wants a severance payment and they say he’s entitled to it. “He’s going to be paid, it’s just a matter of when,’’ said Councilman William McKoy, chairman of the public safety committee.
Wittig’s lawyer, Bruce Leder, did not return a phone message seeking his comments on the situation. Some city officials say they fear Wittig may sue Paterson if a deal is not worked out soon.
Under the package that the City Council approved in 2011 and the state rejected, Wittig would have gotten $135,937 for unused leave days and $113,845 in retroactive pay for a series of retroactive pay increases dating back to 2006 that would have boosted his retiring salary by almost $30,000 to $195,538. Those raises would have increased Wittig's annual pension by about $20,000 per year to $135,000.
Mayor Jeffrey Jones said a large part of the state’s problem with the deal was the fact that the city never reached a contract with Wittig as police chief. As a result, city officials used the contract for ranking police officers as the basis to calculate Wittig’s proposed payout.
Wittig’s attorney met with the city’s business administrator, Charles Thomas, two weeks ago to discuss the proposed severance deal, Jones said.
The state has authority to oversee some aspects of the city’s finances as a result of an agreement covering the $21 million in Transition Aid the DCA gave Paterson last year.
Six-figure retirement checks are not unusual in Paterson and other New Jersey municipalities where public employees can cash in unused leave and sick time. For example, the City Council last year voted to borrow $2.3 million to cover the cost of retirement packages for 22 police officers and six firefighters, including seven who would get more than $100,000. The highest among those was $169,495 for retired deputy police Chief Robert Drace.
McKoy said Wittig’s predecessors also have gotten large retirement deals. The councilman said administration complete a contract with the city’s William Fraher for his role as acting police chief to prevent similar situation when he retires.
McKoy said the questions over Wittig’s retirement package also highlight problems with the way the city keeps track of leave time accumulated by police officers and other employees. “The record-keeping system is so antiquated that you can’t have any level of confidence in the information,’’ said McKoy.