Council President Delays Vote on Overtime Repayments
Monday, October 8, 2012 • 7:52am
PATERSON, NJ – The City Council has put off its vote on a resolution designed to get reimbursement of improper overtime payments from high-ranking municipal officials.
Councilman Anthony Davis used his powers as president to pull the resolution from the agenda for tomorrow’s council meeting.
“We’re trying to make sure everyone is on board,’’ Davis said at the October 2 workshop meeting, explaining his decision to delay the overtime resolution. “We don’t want to put the cart before the horse,’’ he added. Davis did not respond to PatersonPress.com’s subsequent attempts to contact him to get a more detailed explanation on why the resolution was pulled.
At issue is more than $28,000 worth of non-flood-related overtime given to four top officials between July 2010 and December 2011 that both the state and the city council have said was inappropriate. The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) had set March 1 as the deadline for the city to recoup the funds or to have a repayment schedule in place, but Mayor Jeffrey Jones has refused, saying his Cabinet members were entitled to the overtime because their predecessors in previous administrations had gotten such compensation.
Two weeks ago, Councilman Kenneth Morris, the finance chairman, directed the city’s law department to draft a resolution under which Paterson would garnish the paychecks of those officials who had not yet repaid the money. The draft resolution presented to the council last week was somewhat less demanding than what Morris originally suggested.
The resolution would require Business Administrator Charles Thomas to provide the council with a list of all employees “who have received overtime when they were not entitled to do so,” the amount they received, and copies of repayments arrangements already in place.
“If the City Council is not satisfied with the arrangements made for repayment of any such overtime, the City Council shall issue a report under the direction of the Finance Chairman with a recommendation for payment arrangements,’’ reads the proposed resolution.
When Davis pulled the resolution from the agenda, only one of his colleagues spoke up about it. “Do we need to hire a lawyer to fight this?’’ Rodriguez asked. “Do we need to spend more taxpayers’ money to get this money back?’’
Morris, who was not in the chambers when Davis said he wanted to wait on the overtime repayment resolution, said he had no idea why the president had delayed the vote. “We need to move forward on this,’’ Morris said. “This is not just what I want. This is what the taxpayers and citizens of Paterson want.’’
In fact, one resident spoke on the issue at last week’s meeting, criticizing the mayor’s decision not to force his department heads to repay the overtime. “It isn’t his money, it’s the taxpayers’ money,’’ said Joanne Sanabria, who lives in the 1st Ward.
At last week’s meeting, Davis said city officials were discussing the situation with the DCA. The state acknowledged there was a discussion of the overtime repayment resolution, but gave no indication that it wanted the council to delay pushing for the payment.
“The City briefly mentioned the resolution to the Division of Local Government Services (DLGS),’’ said state spokeswoman Lisa Ryan. “The Division did not provide any recommendation related to the resolution and does not know why it was pulled.’’
“As we’ve said before, the State believes the payments on overtime were inappropriate and should be repaid,’’ Ryan added. “The State is not going to subsidize such expenditures; therefore, if people do not repay the money as DLGS has recommended, the City’s future Transitional Aid will be reduced commensurately. The same is true of our position on Paterson officials going to the League of Municipalities Convention for three night hotel stays at rates exceeding federal standards. It should be paid back. If it is not, DLGS will deduct commensurate amounts from Transitional Aid.”
Here’s a breakdown of the overtime the four officials owe from the 2011 fiscal year:
- Betty Taylor, $11,549. Taylor was Personnel Director at the time she received the overtime. She was subsequently fired by the city council and then eventually reinstated to her former position of assistant personnel director after a city labor union filed a legal challenge.
- Public Works Director Christopher Coke, $7,786.
- Thomas, $7,440.
- Health and Human Services Director Donna Nelson-Ivy, $1,572.
The four of them also owe several thousand dollars more in non-flood overtime from the fiscal 2012 year.
Although Jones repeatedly has cited “past practice” as the basis for the overtime payments, city records indicate that only the previous public works director had received money as overtime compensation. In other instances, department heads had gotten comp time in exchange for extra hours they worked.
Jones said part of the problem in dealing with the controversial overtime has been Paterson’s lack of policies on whether administrators could get such payments. “We don’t have anything that says you can and we don’t have anything that says you can’t,’’ said the mayor.
Jones also accused council members of making an issue of the overtime because of their political aspirations. “It hasn’t stopped being about politics,’’ Jones said. “Each one of them has an agenda. But they can’t be honest about it. So they have to play these shenanigans.’’