An administrative law judge issued an initial decision in late December ordering the city to reinstate former personnel division director Betty Taylor, whose performance was once described by the state as “extraordinarily poor,” to her post with back pay.
The city has vowed to appeal the initial decision which has to be finalized by the New Jersey Civil Service Commission. Administrative law judge JoAnn LaSala Candido ruled terminating Taylor, who is also known as Betty Gene Johnson-Taylor, for allegedly misrepresenting her income to secure a loan through the Paterson Pride Program, a program to assist low-income individuals with home repairs through federal grants, was “disproportionate to the offense.”
In her decision, Candido wrote six months suspension without pay would have been more appropriate. Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ administration rightfully charged Taylor with conduct unbecoming of a public employee based on her alleged misrepresentation or failure to correct her reported income on the federal HOME program loan application and affidavit dated Dec. 1, 2010, reads the opinion.
Taylor was terminated from her post as assistant personnel director on Jan. 16, 2015 after a city hearing officer, Philip H. Mizzone, who is a retired Passaic County superior court judge, determined she submitted false information on her 2010 application for a $43,141 home repair loan, said officials.
She submitted her application for the loan on Dec. 22, 2009. At the time, she reported her wage was $52,811. She was subsequently promoted to acting personnel director and her salary was boosted to $80,340 on July 30, 2010. On Dec. 1, 2010, when she signed a loan document the application stated her annual salary was $53,868.
“She did this even though she knew she was given a considerable pay raise in July 2010 and that the income stated on the closing document, which she certified as correct, was in fact untrue,” wrote the administrative law judge.
Mayor Jeffery Jones’ administration’s Community Development Department headed by Lanisha Makle approved the loan without verifying her income at the closing. The approval documentation also incorrectly stated Taylor was not a city employee, according to the decision.
Makle, who is also known as Lanisha Danielle Mackle Ridley, testified in support of Taylor, according to records. She stated she would have never signed off on the application if the income was not correctly stated.
The city should not have accepted Taylor’s loan application to begin with because from the start her income was above the allowable limit under the program, wrote Candido.
Torres administration reviewed Taylor’s application and referred it to the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office for review. Prosecutors determined there was no criminal intent, according to the decision documents. Similarly, the Office of Inspector General at HUD also found no criminal intent on Taylor’s part.
The city council would find fault with something else. The council’s investigation into overtime pay collected by high ranking administration officials in the aftermath of hurricane Irene led to the finding that Taylor received $14,875 in inappropriate overtime pay. Under her watch, the personnel division allowed overtime payments without proper documentation. She was also accused of conspiring with Makle to produce fraudulent overtime records, the investigation found.
During the council’s investigation Taylor was not threatened with disciplinary action or termination nor were any charges ever filed against her, reads the opinion. On June 14, 2012, the council through a resolution terminated Taylor from her acting personnel director post. The next month she was returned to her post as assistant personnel director at the direction of the civil service commission. She was reinstated with back pay on July 23, 2012.
The Jones administration never brought charges against Taylor for her alleged mismanagement of funds in the 2011 council investigation. As a result, Taylor has an “unblemished disciplinary record.”
The council should have explicitly notified Taylor it was seeking to discipline her with specific reasons for imposing disciplinary action, wrote the administrative law judge.
There’s no record of there having been a disciplinary hearing held by the council to address its investigative findings. In such a hearing, she would have been allowed to contest the charges and present her witnesses and cross-examine the city’s. Because no hearing ever occurred, the Civil Service Commission set aside the removal and reinstated Taylor as assistant personnel director, reads the opinion.
With no previous charge of official misconduct prior to the loan this is her first offense which makes removal “not warranted.”
“We will be filing an exception to the decision,” said business administrator Nellie Pou on Tuesday. She said the city will file additional documents with the commission. She would not say what additional documents the city planned to submit.
Pou said she could not discuss specifics of the case because it’s a personnel matter in litigation.
Law director Domenick Stampone pointed the section of the judge’s opinion that upheld the city’s charge of conduct unbecoming of a public employee against Taylor.
“The judge did not agree with our recommended penalty which was termination and changed it to a six months pension without pay. Our argument is going to be the reason we sought termination is because she already has a disciplinary history and that this is progressive discipline,” he said.
Taylor’s attorney Neal Brunson did not return a message for comment Tuesday afternoon.