When city council members voted to enter into an ambulance agreement with neighboring Woodland Park in June there was no written agreement.
On June 10th, 2014, the council voted to approve the agreement; on June 16th, 2014 the Paterson Times asked for the agreement through an Open Public Records Act request, but the city did not respond to the request in a timely manner resulting in a lawsuit being filed by this paper.
“At the time of plaintiff’s OPRA request (June 16, 2014) the responsive EMS Shared Services agreement did not yet exist,” wrote Domenick Stampone, the city’s law department director, in a legal brief responding to the complaint.
Only after the legal complaint from this paper, the city prepared the agreement few days before July 30th, almost a month after the vote, and provided a copy.
“Whenever the council considers and or votes on a resolution or an ordinance, there’s a little passage within that which says that the factual content of the ordinance or resolution has been approved by the originating department head and the legal department,” said Morris. “And we depend on that to be true.”
Within the resolution, there was a reference to a document, but that document was not attached to the resolution which was approved. Then council president Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward, said he does not remember much about the resolution, but he would have preferred the relevant documents were attached to the resolution before it came to a vote.
“We should receive an explanation,” said Sayegh. “We want to know why it wasn’t there.”
The public safety committee chairperson at the time Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward, said she too has little memory of the vote, but said she would look into the matter and then provide a response. Cotton, whose committee at the time was charged with vetting the resolution before it came for a vote in the council, did not provide a subsequent explanation.
“I’m really concerned,” said Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman, 2nd Ward.
Kevin Galland, borough administrator for Woodland Park, explained the agreement was a “document in transition” which had to be edited and adjusted until the agreements were acceptable to both municipalities.
City officials have said the agreement is almost identical to those the city has with Prospect Park and Haledon.
“The agreement was in possession of the City of Paterson prior to the vote of the municipal council,” said Galland. It remains unclear why it came into existence at a later date when that was the case.
“I find that hard to believe,” said William McKoy, 3rd Ward, when told he voted on an agreement that did not exist at the time. McKoy said sometimes the council has to grant authorization to the administration before it can enter into an agreement with another town, but even in that case a draft agreement is usually presented to the council. When told there was no such draft presented to the council at the time McKoy said, “That’s a problem, clearly.”
When asked if that was a normal process, Morris said this was a broken process. “It’s my hopes it’s not normal,” said Morris. “If it’s normal it indicates a clear breakdown in the system.”