Council members approved all seven of mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ department directors whose names were before them on Tuesday evening. The seven directors were approved after council members added a provision to the approving resolutions that would freeze the salaries of each of the appointees for a four-year period.
“These salaries will be fixed throughout the term so there’s not going to be a 2-percent or 1-percent increases moving forward for the remainder of the term,” said Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large. Morris said the “salary freeze” will produce “considerable” amount of savings for city taxpayers.
Keeping the salaries “static” is sensible, said William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman. Torres said withholding cost of living increases for directors is unfair. “To single out seven individuals, the department heads, the ones who actually ensure everything gets done in the city, out of 2,000 employees is unfair,” said Torres.
Torres said the savings that would come from withholding annual increases are negligible. Morris stated that if the administration wishes to increase salaries it can come before the council to do so.
The freeze was added to the appointing resolutions after lengthy discussions over the director salaries.
“These salaries are all outside the ordinance,” said Morris. “I need some correlation between the present day salaries and the ordinance.”
McKoy also said there should be a link between the salaries and the ordinance from more than a decade ago that sets the salaries for each of the directors.
Morris wanted to see how the salaries, beginning with the 2004 base salaries, climbed to the current levels. He cited the business administrator’s salary which was set at $88,152 in the 2004 salary ordinance, but the approval resolution presented a $110,000 salary for the position.
“How did we get from $88,152 to $110,000?” asked Morris. Business administrator Nellie Pou said the previous business administrator was making $119,000.
“We still want to know how he got his,” said Morris.
Morris said the salaries that the previous administration put forward were deemed “illegal” by the council. He said the council even put forward a resolution to reduce those salaries, but it was vetoed by former mayor Jeffery Jones.
The council did not override the veto at the advice of the city’s former law director.
Morris cited salaries of the health and community development directors. City records show the health director was making less than $85,000 last year while the community development director is currently making $84,000. Both salaries considerably less than the recommended $92,000.
Health director Donna Nelson-Ivy was receiving a $85,000 salary during the first half of 2014, but her salary was boosted beginning in July to $92,000 when Torres took office. Much of this change took place without the council being informed.
Pou said the increase was necessary to maintain parity between directors.
The salary discussion came to a close when Julio Tavarez, 5th Ward councilman, using a 2006 ordinance that allowed the equalization of pay between unionized and non-unionized city employees, calculated 2-percent year-over-year increases for the director positions for nine years to find the salaries recommended by the administration were close.
Tavarez said the public works director’s salary comes out to $104,160 with 2-percent compounded increase over a nine-year period. Torres’ administration recommended a $105,000 salary for the public works director.
“They’re pretty close if you do the 2-percent increase,” said Tavarez. “Some of them are little above, some of them are little below, but they’re pretty close.”
After a 45-minute discussion on salaries, the council moved to briefly interview each of the directors. Pou was up first.
“Your two immediate predecessors lived in the city, do you have any plans to move back now?” asked Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman.
“No, I do not,” Pou quickly answered.
James Staton, 1st Ward councilman, said he was “in awe” of Pou’s statement that she had no desire to change her domicile from North Haledon to Paterson. Staton said he was trying understand why Pou wouldn’t want to live in this city and why she wouldn’t want to raise her children here.
“I lived here for 49 years,” said Pou. “I raised by children in the City of Paterson.” Pou said the question was whether she would sell her home in a short time to move back to the city. She said she had no intention of moving back, but expressed her affection for the city. “I love my city,” said Pou.
Morris asked for copies of wavers, as is required by city ordinance, for directors who do not reside in the city.
“There are no wavers,” said Pou.
Morris said city ordinance requires directors to live within the city limits; however, when local residents lack the needed talent to serve the council may approve out-of-town residents after waving the residency requirement.
“By virtue of your approval or not of any one of these directors would be the waver that is granted or not,” said Pou.
Sayegh asked whether Pou can adequately juggle her responsibilities as a senator and business administrator citing Alison Littell McHose, an assemblywoman who resigned her elected office to take up the Franklin Borough business administrator post.
Pou responded that she has been and will continue to perform both jobs well “without question.”
Residency remained a concerns for council members as they interviewed other acting directors for permanent appointments. Maritza Davila, councilwoman at-large, asked Barbara McLennon, “Do you currently live in Paterson?”
“Yes I do,” replied McLennon.
“We lost a lot of money. Going forward, please, we don’t want to open the newspaper and see we lost a million dollar here and $100,000 there,” added Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman, 2nd Ward councilman.
Sayegh asked what her plan is to ensure the city does not lose federal grant monies in the future. “I have to do clean up, I’m not in any way telling you, we’re not going to be losing money,” said McLennon. “I’m cleaning up a very difficult situation I inherited.”
Council members also interviewed police director Jerry Speziale, economic director Ruben Gomez, and law director Domenick Stampone, Public works director Manuel Ojeda, who is convalescing from an injury, was not present.
While interviewing Gomez, Alex Mendez, councilman at-large, asked the economic director what sorts of changes he plans to make.
“We’re trying to change the ratables from the residential component to the commercial component,” responded Gomez.
Gomez was asked whether he intends to move into the city. Gomez, who resides in Wayne, said he has kids in high school rendering relocation an impossibility.
“I have mixed reviews,” said Morris, when interviewing Stampone. He said the city’s corporation counsel is at times unable to impartially represent both the council and the mayor. Morris recollected the overtime hearings under former mayor Jeffery Jones when that fact glaringly manifested itself.
“I continue to see that,” said Morris. He said he would like to see the council get its own counsel, but absent that the city’s law director would, moving forward, impartially represent both branches of government.
Morris also said he would like Stampone to remain impartial when ordinances or resolutions are being considered that may adversely impact his community in Haledon where he serves as mayor.
Stampone said the two years he’s been serving as corporation counsel he has competently represented both the council and the mayor. He said if a conflict arises where Haledon is adversely impacted by something the city’s council is considering he will have another attorney from the city’s law department handle the matter.
When it came her time, Nelson-Ivy said her department is working on various health initiatives, including one where she intends to gut a lab at the health department to create a mental clinic for adults. “We have a need for a mental health clinic to serve adults in Paterson,” said Nelson-Ivy.
In a grueling hearing that went on for more than two hours, council members praised Speziale’s leadership in the city’s police department. “I notice there has been a great improvement in the morale of the men,” said Morris.
“The men and women of the Paterson police department are an extraordinary group of talented individual that are truly dedicated to the welfare of the citizens,” said Speziale, with a small number of city police officers in the audience. “They do an outstanding job making me shine every day.”
Other council members praised Speziale for being accessible and very visible in the community.
Following the interviews council members unanimously voted to confirm Torres’ appointments. Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman, was absent. Officials said Cotton was unable to make it to the meeting because she was in the hospital.
Morris amended the resolutions to read the approved salaries would run from 2014 to 2018.
The salaries are as follows:
• Domenick Stampone, law director, $122,000
• Nellie Pou, business administrator, $110,000
• Ruben Gomez, economic director, $107,100
• Manuel Ojeda, public works director, $105,000
• Barbara McLennon, community development director, $92,000
• Donna Nelson-Ivy, health director, $92,000
• Jerry Speziale, police director $45,000.
“That’s what I call feel good legislation,” said Torres of the salary freeze amendment.