After five months Charles Thomas, the city’s business administrator, had a report — one without meat — on the $73,996 severance check that was issued to Jose Torres, the city’s 2-term former mayor, during his last week in office.
Thomas said he has interviewed every person connected to the severance check scandal, except one clerical employee, who no longer works for the city, and is of no consequence. “The former mayor Jose Torres has not been interviewed,” said Thomas, suggesting the investigation is incomplete without the response of the ex-mayor. “This may not be a complete report without his interview.”
Andre Sayegh, the council president, asked whether it is even necessary to interview Torres. “What would an interview with him yield?” asked Sayegh to the business administrator. Sayegh said the former mayor has made statements to newspapers and has said numerous times he has done nothing wrong. “There’s nothing for the former mayor to respond to,” chimed in Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, after noticing the report did not make any assertions whether it was ethical or otherwise for a mayor to receive a severance check.
Thomas said if the council does not wish for him to interview the mayor for the report, then his job his complete, and the report is final. The report, 26-pages with three folders worth of evidence, and completed in a narrative form, was at hand during Tuesday’s council meeting, but it was withheld from the public because it’s labeled as a “deliberative” and “consultative” document, according to Domenick Stampone, the city’s head lawyer.
From the questions and answers exchanged between the council and the administration, it was clear the report was poorly done because it did not come to basic conclusions, which the report was supposed to do, and the main reason why the council demanded an investigation. “Is it legal to do that? Is it unethical? Is it legal but unethical?” asked Julio Tavarez, the 5th Ward councilman. “You’re not getting to any conclusions.”
“The report is not complete without findings and recommendations,” added Kenneth McDaniel, councilman at-large.
It emerged back in August that the former mayor received a check of $73,996 during his last week in office; the fact was made public by Aslon Goow, former 2nd Ward councilman. Since then, the administration was told to run an investigation to find out whether the lump sum was legal for the former mayor to receive. Torres explained the money was owed to him from unused sick days and vacation days: $50,244 for 110 sick days and $23,752 for 52 vacation days.
“Does the white collar contract apply to elected official?” asked Morris to the business administrator and city’s lawyer, both of whom could not readily provide an answer. Elected officials are not entitled to sick days or vacation days.
William McKoy, the 3rd Ward councilman, offered the administration more time to submit a final report with the Torres interview attached, for he feared if the report were released without a response from the former mayor the public might make judgment based on incomplete information.
Sayegh alluded to Thomas’ feet dragging on the investigation saying it will just be “groundhog day” all over again with the administration wasting more and more time under the guise of presenting a report soon. “I still believe we are complicating the issue,” said Sayegh, who wanted the report released.
“If this isn’t working out let’s form a Committee of Whole,” said Tavarez, noticing the delaying tactics and lack of result from the business administration, who spent five months investigating. Thomas had stated he would have a report in December of last year, but due to a death in the family he was unable to complete it in 2013.
Sayegh gave into McKoy’s suggestion and provided the business administrator more time to present a complete report. “Mr BA you have an incomplete homework assignment. When can you complete this homework assignment?” asked Sayegh. Thomas said he can interview the mayor within this week.
Goow asserted that this administration cannot properly investigate the previous administration, and it makes no sense for the council to task the business administrator with such things. “This investigation should have been handed over to the prosecutor’s office,” said Goow, who is running for mayor. The former 2nd Ward councilman said what Torres, who is attempting to grab a 3rd term, did was nothing less than “official misconduct.”