The city’s governing body approved five judicial appointments — two re-appointments and three new appointments — put forward by mayor Jose “Joey” Torres during the city council’s regular meeting on Tuesday evening.
Council members approved the reappointment of municipal court judges Joaquin Calcines and Gerald Keegan. Calcines and Keegan have been serving at the bench for more than a decade beginning in 2003.
The Torres administration had to jump through a few hoops to get the newly appointed judges approved by the council. Council president Julio Tavarez stipulated the judges come before the council for a hearing; however, that was skipped when the administration offered to connect the soon-to-be judges to interested council members for private conversations.
Torres appointed Haledon municipal prosecutor Abdelmageid “John” Abdelhadi, Hackensack municipal prosecutor Giuseppe Randazzao, and a Totowa attorney Cecilia Guzman.
“I met with the three judges we had a very effective and extensive conversation,” said Domingo “Alex” Mendez, councilman at-large.
Tavarez ‘s condition was Mendez and Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman, 2nd Ward, would meet the judges. Only after a meeting the council would decide whether to have the confirmations up for vote at its regular meeting.
On Monday afternoon, the three new appointments were placed for approval on the agenda, presumably after the three held private meetings with Mendez and Akhtaruzzaman. Mendez did not elaborate on the two-hour long meeting. However, he expressed a concern over the judges, who are part-time employees, receiving employment benefits.
“They are part-time working in this city why [are they getting benefits]?” asked Mendez. “I’m not comfortable appointing them part-time and also giving them benefits.”
“Employees working less than 20 hours cannot receive that [benefits],” added Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large. Morris said the city is bound by a memorandum of understanding with the state that part-time employees would not receive benefits.
“We have a large number of part-time employees who are working 21 hours a week and they are entitled and do receive health benefits,” answered business administrator Nellie Pou.
Irked by Pou’s comment, Tavarez said, “So we have employees who work exactly 21 hours a week to milk our city?”
“It could have been said if you’re going to become a municipal judge in the City of Paterson, we cannot include pensions,” said Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward. Cotton said the city is circumventing the rules for some, whereas if it was uniformly applying the part-time-no-benefit rule it would save money.
City attorney Ben-David Seligman said by approving the judges the city is not granting them benefits.
“This is a policy decision,” added William McKoy, 3rd Ward. McKoy called for a broader discussion on clearly identifying classes of employees entitled to benefits and classes who are not.
“We should hold these resolutions [three new appointments], and wait until they clear this hurdle to address this policy issue,” said McKoy. Council members were uniform in their call to better enforce the part-time-no-benefits rule, but they would not hold back on the appointments to address the policy issue.
The council which delayed the mayor’s appointments by almost a month voted just minutes before midnight confirming the appointments.