When councilman Michael Jackson inquired whether she was aware of concerns raised by staff members about having the municipal identification card program at the vital statistics office, health and human services director Donna Nelson-Ivy replied in the negative.
“They have not shared it with me, sir,” Nelson-Ivy replied to Jackson on April 25th, 2017. Her emails released by the city through a records request provide a different narrative. She was provided an email on April 10th, 2017 from the woman in charge of vital statistics raising concerns about intermingling of the mayor’s identification program and vital statistics.
“I have been informed by the State Vital Statistics Office that while performing Vital Statistics functions there can be no other order of business performed during those hours at the same location,” wrote Karen Sizer-Martin, registrar of vital statistics, which issues birth, marriage, and death certificates, in an email to health officer Paul Persaud on April 7th, 2017.
Sizer-Martin mentioned one example in which a person seeking an ID card walked into the vaulted room in the back where marriage and death records are kept to place his hat and coat on a step-stool.
Unauthorized personnel are barred from the vaulted room area, according to Sizer-Martin’s email which was forwarded to Nelson-Ivy by the health officer on April 10th, 2017. She also notes several other issues that have resulted in having the ID program located in the tiny vital statistics office. For example, staff are subjected to foul odor coming from homeless and other individuals seeking ID cards.
In one case, a woman seeking an ID card made her way to the basement of the building and attempted to walk out with electronic equipment. She was caught by security at the office. In another instance, a cross man threw a pencil at a vital statistics employee because he could not obtain an ID card due to lack of needed documents, according to emails released by the city.
Nelson-Ivy did not respond to a comment seeking an explanation for the disconnect between her emails and her statements to council members.
“Wow. I see an issue with that. There’s a huge problem here,” remarked Jackson, 1st Ward councilman, when told of her emails. “I did my part to make the council members aware of some of the concerns there.”
Council members rely on the statements and speeches of directors like Nelson-Ivy to make decisions on resolutions and ordinances.
“I’m not going to say she misrepresented herself, but it does show staff communicated to her regarding the concerns,” said Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large. He said he recalled her “no, sir,” reply to Jackson’s question.
Morris said the health committee should take up the concerns and the discrepancy between the director’s emails and her public statements.
Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman, who serves as chairman of the health committee, said there’s an expectation on directors to provide accurate information to the council.
“The expectation is that they’ll disseminate accurate information,” said Sayegh. He did not say whether the committee intends to question her about her statements.
Nelson-Ivy told the council two weeks ago the program will remain in vital statistics because mayor Jose “Joey” Torres wants the program there. Her statement followed a question by Jackson that had to do with the structure of the health department.
Jackson has raised questions about the structure of the health department. State law says the Board of Health should run the health department through the health officer, according to two attorneys.
The council is also the Board of Health in Paterson’s form of government. The city’s legal staff have been researching the issue. Jackson said he has yet to receive a final report from the legal office as of Tuesday morning.
Council president William McKoy has dismissed the health department structure matter as a “manufactured” issue. He argues the city has been functioning in this manner for decades. He also notes the ill-feeling between the health officer and the health director is partly behind the health department structure issue.
The emails highlight a strained relationship between the director and the health officer. For example, in one email the health officer suggested to business administrator Nellie Pou the city should have a cutoff date of April 28th, 2017 for IDs because the life of newly issued IDs would be just two months.
This email also included Nelson-Ivy.
The current IDs are set to expire on June 30th, 2017. Nelson-Ivy questioned why Persaud was contacting the business administrator with his suggestion. She accused him of insubordination asserting, “”This [is] incredibly disrespectful & unprofessional.”
Persaud declined to comment on the emails.