The Mayor Strikes Back: Threatens Defamation Lawsuit Against the City Council’s “Cycle of Lies”
Wednesday, February 20, 2013 • 11:02am
PATERSON, NJ - In a blistering response, Mayor Jeffery Jones said the City Council acted like a “lynch mob” on Tuesday night in accusing his administration of taking “illegal” action by paying city bills without proper authorization.
Jones said he considered the council members’ comments a defamation of his character and asserted that he was considering retaining a lawyer to take action against them. “This cycle of lies has to stop somewhere,’’ the mayor said. “You can’t make statements like that in public without having proof.’’
Jones was not present at the council workshop on Tuesday. He called PatersonPress.com Wednesday morning to offer a rebuttal to the council members’ comments that were reported in a story about the meeting. The mayor said the council’s criticism of his administration was “exactly like what’s happening in Washington,” asserting that his critics were simply playing politics and following their own personal agendas. “They are maligning people and trying to make it look like there’s this diabolical scheme going on in the background,’’ Jones said.
Several council members on Tuesday had questioned the legality of the administration’s decision last week to issue municipal paycheck with the authorization they said was needed in the form of a temporary budget. The council on February 12 had voted down the administration’s proposal for a temporary budget for February.
Jones asserted that the council essentially had authorized the administration to meet its payroll by approving labor union contracts that required employees to be paid in a timely manner. Moreover, Jones said, his administration tried to prevent the city from getting hit with any additional lawsuits that might stem from not issuing its paychecks, and so his finance director, Anthony Zambrano, asked the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA) for special approval to go ahead and pay those bills.
Councilman William McKoy said the council was more concerned about the administration’s decision to seek the DCA’s intervention without notifying the council, rather than the actual payment of the bills. But he also acknowledged that he and some of his colleagues considered the payment “illegal” because it lacked what the council considered requisite authorization. McKoy said he thought “illegal” was a fair characterization of the administration’s actions. “What is it when something is required and it’s not done according to the law?’’ McKoy said.
Councilman Kenneth Morris said, “The council was fully within its rights to question the payment of bills without their authorization.’’ He added, “I think the actions taken were basically a form of government acting illegally.’’
Paterson Corporation Counsel Paul Forsman agreed on Tuesday night to provide the council with his legal opinion regarding the legality of the bill payments as well as on the role of the DCA in authorizing them.
On Tuesday night, the council approved the bills that included last week’s payroll, then reconsidered the decision and opted to delay its vote until Tues., Feb. 26. The council has requested that Jones and Zambrano attend that meeting to provide their explanations of what happened.
The verbal battle over the bill payments represents the latest skirmish in a power struggle between the mayor and council that’s been going on for more than two years.
“They are trying to do the administrative function, the council function, the judicial function and the DCA function,’’ Jones said. “They’re trying to say they supersede all things.’’
Morris said Jones was attempted to infringe on the council’s authority under state law to monitor the city’s finances. “It appears to me that if you look historically at the chain of events, everything this administration has done has been designed to minimize, cannibalize or diminish the council’s authority,’’ Morris said.
Jones on Wednesday repeated previous accusations he has made against Morris, accusing the councilman of trying to undermine his administration because it would not provide financial backing to a proposal to build a hotel on land owned by St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center, which is Morris’ employer.
“The mayor needs to come up with a different song to sing,’’ said Morris, asserting that he had no stake in the hotel. The proposal, he said, was made by a private developer, not by St. Joseph’s, adding that he was merely “one of 5,000 employees” of the hospital.