After she hired her sister-in-law as a program analyst in the city’s health department, health director Donna Nelson-Ivy terminated a long-time city employee who was holding the same position from a year prior.
Nelson-Ivy hired Denise Coba, the sister-in-law, in 2011 as a program analyst in the Ryan White division, which falls under the department head’s direct supervision. Since 2010, Anthony Fazzinga has been working in the department as a program analyst.
“We were doing different work, but we were both holding the same title, and she came into Ryan White after,” said Fazzinga. “I was with the city with five years seniority over her and in the program I had six months seniority over her.”
Despite being employed at the city since 2006, when funding was cut to the program in 2013, Nelson-Ivy had to make the tough decision whether to keep Fazzinga at the position or Coba. “As a result of our 9% Ryan White program funding cut we needed to eliminate two full time positions in order to balance the budget,” wrote Nelson-Ivy to business administrator Charles Thomas on June 18th, 2013.
Nelson-Ivy kept Coba as the program analyst moving Fazzinga to a public health inspector position. By hiring her sister-in-law and then getting rid of the individual who held the same position prior to Coba’s arrival, the director essentially completed a switcheroo: Nelson-Ivy kept her relative in the safe position while dislodging Fazzinga.
A year later, Fazzinga found himself in tough spot, when he received a termination a notice from the city. Without any detailed explanation, on June 26th, 2014, Nelson-Ivy wrote, “It is with regret that I must inform you that on Thursday, July 3, 2014 will be your last day of employment with the City.”
Fazzinga was terminated after the city opened up his post to Civil Service competition: a veteran applied for the position and managed to snatch it through veteran’s preference which gives hiring priority to veterans over others.
When asked if the director held a discussion with him prior to the issuance of the termination notice, Fazzinga said he met with Nelson-Ivy twice, both times she demonstrated an intention to transfer him to another position. “She did one on one and said when they knew they had to hire this guy [the veteran] she was going to transfer me to vermin control specialist position,” said Fazzinga.
The day he received the termination letter, Fazzinga asked Nelson-Ivy what happened to the open position where he was set to be transferred. Nelson-Ivy said with the new administration coming in everything was frozen.
Fazzinga, who ardently supported Andre Sayegh during the mayoral election, said he never got a real reason as to why he is being terminated other than a letter stating the city had hired a replacement and his services were no longer needed.
A series of events following the hiring of Coba led to the termination of Fazzinga two weeks ago. Nelson-Ivy did not respond to requests for comments for this story.
William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman, said last he spoke to the director she had said her husband had been deceased for two decades. “The last time I spoke to her,” said McKoy, “her husband had died over 20 years now.”
McKoy added, “I think she’s implying there isn’t a sister-in-law relationship that exists to the extent you’d think after 20 years.”
Domenick Stampone, the city’s law director, said he could not comment on the matter for he has yet to review the situation. “Nothing was brought to my attention, so I would need to review it first,” said Stampone.
Transgression of the city’s personnel code or not, mayor Jose “Joey” Torres has tapped Nelson-Ivy to remain at the helm of the department.
Torres could not be reached for comments on his cellphone. A message left at the mayor’s office was not responded to on Monday.
For Torres’ appointment to go through, the city council must confirm Nelson-Ivy to the position following state approval. Tammori Petty, spokesperson for the Department of Community Affairs, said the agency does not publicly discuss personnel matters.
Councilwoman at-large Maritza Davila, chairwoman of the health and human services committee, said she did not know the details to comment on the situation.
“She’s not allowed to violate the city’s ethics,” said Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman, 2nd Ward councilman. “I’m going to speak to her and find out if it really violated the code of ethics.”
Councilman at-large Kenneth Morris, said the council has a responsibility to question department heads if they are straying from the city’s policies.
“During her confirmation hearing,” said Morris, “that can be a question asked because it goes towards policy and whether or not she is adhering to the personnel policies of the City of Paterson.”
“That’s one of the reasons we need a personnel director to make sure the policy of the city is consistently applied,” said McKoy.
Corrections: The initial article stated that Fazzinga had a termination discussion week prior to the notice was issued, when in fact, the discussion took place the day the director handed the termination notice.