In a continued effort to recoup the $74,000 in “potentially unlawful” severance pay that mayor Jose “Joey” Torres received during his last week in office in 2010, the city council plans to hold a closed door meeting on Tuesday evening to consider a possible legal recourse.
Council members are also slated to discuss litigation against Denise Coba, health department employee; Betty Taylor, assistant personal director; John DeCando, animal control officer, and former mayor Jeffery Jones.
Torres owes — based on the council’s determination — the city approximately $74,000 due to a severance check – sick and vacation pay — that the mayor received during his last week in office in 2010. The state has called the payment “grossly inappropriate and potentially unlawful”; however, the mayor has repeatedly said the payment was earned for his services to the city.
Jones is on the hook for following Torres’ precedence and cashing out $17,000 worth of vacation time. A week before leaving office, Jones said he was still considering whether to return the money.
The former mayor could not be reached for comments.
DeCando received $144,000 in retroactive pay for being on standby from 2007 to 2010. Betty Taylor received improper overtime payments following hurricane Irene.
Coba was hired by the city despite not meeting basic employment requirements. And the hiring violated the city’s own ethics code which disallows nepotism. Coba is sister-in-law to health director Donna Nelson-Ivy.
Tuesday’s special meeting lists the items without any details. Council president Julio Tavarez, who is in charge of the agenda, could not immediately be reached for comments.
The items are listed under law. Law department director Dominick Stampone could not be reached for comments at his office.
“We need to be updated on these items,” said Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman. Sayegh said these controversies are not going to go away; the city has to address them.
Other council members said there wasn’t any discussion prior to the items being added into the agenda. Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman, said she saw the items after they were added on to the agenda, and did not have much details about them.
The council passed a resolution demanding Torres return the funds; however, the mayor so far has not adhered to the council’s demands. “The council unanimously adopted a resolution calling on mayor Torres to give the money back. And we also adopted a policy to prevent any future mayor, including the current mayor, from doing what he did,” said Sayegh.
Torres on Monday morning said he was not at liberty to comment on the potential lawsuits, for they were personnel matter.
“We’re going to have to take a look at what the legal cost is going to be and what are the chances in actually recovering the money,” said Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large. “I’m willing to have a discussion on possible litigation at any time where the benefit is going to the Paterson taxpayers.”
Morris said it would not make sense for the city to pursue a legal course if the cost exceeds the amount the city is attempting to recover.
“He’s ethically obligated to return the $74,000, and if we take him to court it’s going to cost taxpayers even more money,” said Sayegh. It’s not clear what the legal price tag is going to be for the five separate legal actions.
Morris, who heads the finance committee, said lawsuits and things dealing with money usually goes through his committee; however, in this case the items did not go through the finance committee.
Updated: 12:30 p.m. Monday, October 6th, 2014.
Correction: After a perceptive user pointed out, that, the word “owes” is loaded with subjectivity, for nothing is owed until a determination has been made. Emendations have been made to attribute “owes” — in text block three — as a determination made by the city council, for it has passed a resolution asserting just that. In other words, “owes” is the stance of the council, and not of this paper.