Mayor Andre Sayegh’s administration approved a 6-percent longevity pay increase for personnel director Michele Ralph-Rawls, according to documents obtained by the Paterson Times.
Sayegh on Monday morning said he was unaware of the longevity increase, a practice that has been discontinued at the behest of the state government years ago. He rebuked his rival, disgraced mayor Jose “Joey” Torres, two years ago, when the Paterson Times caught the ex-mayor taking longevity pay. Sayegh at the time voluntarily gave up his own longevity pay to set an example, he noted on Monday afternoon.
“I’ll have to look into this matter,” said Sayegh. Subsequently, his business administrator Vaughn McKoy, whose signature appears on the longevity approval documents, said the longevity increase has been scrapped.
“She’s not getting it,” said the business administrator. He was left a detailed message on Friday, but did not respond until Monday morning.
Council members were shocked and disturbed when told of Ralph-Rawls’ longevity pay.
“How does one get longevity without working for the city?” asked William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman. “It doesn’t sound right to me.”
“I’m not aware of any of that. I’m going to have to do more research. That doesn’t sound right,” said Michael Jackson, 1st Ward councilman.
Ralph-Rawls was hired on Sept. 18 for $84,000, according to municipal documents. On Oct. 30, she was approved for a 6-percent or $5,040 in longevity pay. She had worked as director of human resources at East Orange for the past four years.
The longevity was justified using a 2016 letter that Ralph-Rawls sent to Andrea Lebron, payroll supervisor at East Orange. The letter stated, “Please adjust the following bridged employee’s longevity compensation to reflect the applicable percentage specified. This employee should be receiving 6% effective July, 2016.”
The letter recounted her 12 years of service in Newark and 2 years (in 2016) in East Orange.
“How could she get longevity?” asked Flavio Rivera, councilman at-large, chairman of the finance committee.
The city has a written personnel policy that states, “No newly hired non-bargaining unit employees will be entitled to longevity benefits.”
“It’s disturbing. If she’s the personnel director she should know better,” said Rivera when told she signed off the personnel form approving the pay increase.
Ralph-Rawls’ signature appears twice – as personnel director and division director — on the approval sheet. The sheet also contains the signature of business administrator McKoy. Missing is the signature of the finance director.
“Are you kidding me?” said councilman McKoy when told she signed off on her own pay increase.
“Every other check I sign. I would not sign my own check,” said Rivera, who works as the treasurer for Passaic County government.
Division directors signing off on their own pay increases and overtime has been a perennial issue in the city. For example, public works supervisor Joe Mania, who was convicted with his boss, former mayor Torres, had signed off on his own fraudulent overtime approval documents.
Councilman McKoy, an auditor by profession, said it’s a “control weakness.”
Both councilmen McKoy and Rivera said the mayor should have been aware of the longevity increase.
“I don’t believe in micromanaging, but if I’m the mayor, any increase, I want to be aware, given the financial situation of the city,” said Rivera. Sayegh’s administration is asking the council to raise taxes by 2-percent in the current budget.
“Right now, I’m not getting it. We can put that to rest,” said Ralph-Rawls. She met with the business administrator on Monday morning to discuss the matter, she said.
The business administrator said he was not aware of an ordinance that disallowed longevity pay. He said the finance director pointed out to him longevity had been disallowed.
When asked why did she sign off on her own pay increase, she said, “I did not.” When told her signature is on the document, she said, “I did what I was supposed to do and I gave it to my boss. It was given to my boss, the business administrator.”
“We will review the process,” said business administrator McKoy when told of council members’ criticism of the approval process, where the employee receiving the pay increase signed off twice.
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Correction Dec. 5, 2018: A previous version of this report erroneously stated the 2016 letter was from East Orange payroll supervisor Andrea Lebron, when in fact, the letter was sent to her by Ralph-Rawls seeking a pay adjustment. Same letter was used to justify her failed longevity pay request in Paterson.