Dissent Arises on Council's Plan to Force Overtime Repayments
Tuesday, October 16, 2012 • 10:20pm
PATERSON, NJ – Councilman Kenneth McDaniel Tuesday night expressed misgivings about his colleagues’ plans to force high-ranking city officials to repay overtime that has been deemed improper.
“If there’s an individual who does not want to repay the money and we take the money by force, we will overstep our bounds,’’ McDaniel said at the council’s workshop meeting.
McDaniel also warned the council could face a lawsuit if it tries to take back the overtime payments by deducting the money from the officials’ pay without their consent.
But other council members seemed committed to pushing ahead on a resolution demanding the repayment of the overtime. The resolution is scheduled for a vote on October 23.
“It’s just good public policy that you right a wrong,’’ said Councilman Kenneth Morris.
“If I gave you money you weren’t entitled to, now I taking it back,’’ said Councilman William McKoy. “We’re even.’’
At issue is more than $28,000 in non-flood overtime payments to high ranking city officials during the past two years that the state and the city council have deemed were inappropriate. City officials already have repaid overtime they received for last year’s historic floods.
A state report last year said that Business Administrator Charles Thomas, Personnel Director Betty Taylor, Public Works Director Christopher Coke, Health and Human Services Director Donna Nelson-Ivy and Budget Director Russell Forenza received overtime that was improper because of the administrative positions. The state said all of them, with the exception of Forenza, should repay the money. The city council in a report released in February also called for the repayment of the overtime.
But Mayor Jeffrey Jones has resisted, saying that previous practices followed by city government legitimized the overtime payments.
Officials said Thomas has agreed to a repayment plan on his own overtime, but none of the other officials involved have done so.
“It seems the individuals are no considering this an error,’’ McDaniel said of the overtime payments.
“It’s not up to them,’’ said McKoy.
Morris, meanwhile, asserted that the council should not back off on its efforts to collect the overtime just because some of the officials might sue. “I wouldn’t be surprised if folks chose to litigate this action,’’ Morris said. “That’s to be expected.’’
Morris and McKoy said the city has allowed far too much time to pass without recouping the overtime payments. McDaniel said he was “all for recovering the money,” but he said he thought the council was going about it in the wrong way. McDaniel said he thought the council ought to obtain a judgment through the courts, rather than trying to force repayment on its own.
His colleagues made one concession to McDaniel’s concerns. They changed the wording of the resolution to remove the word “garnish.’’ Instead they are saying they are simply trying to recapture the funds.
Councilman Andre Sayegh pointed out that the state has indicated it may withhold some much-needed funding to Paterson if the overtime is not repaid. ‘”They may withhold money if we don’t withhold money,’’ Sayegh said. “The consequences will be immense.’’