Mayor Andre Sayegh has presented a measure to the City Council seeking to set salary ranges for high ranking officials in his administration that would let him dole out huge pay increases at a time the city is considering a plan to furlough employees.
Sayegh said he needs the “flexibility” to increase salaries to “retain talent.” The measure allows him to increase the salaries of his cabinet members – business administrator, economic development director, law director, finance director, community development director, public safety director, public works director, health and human services director, and others – by as much as 36 percent.
“This does not increase anyone’s salary,” said Sayegh to the City Council members on Thursday night. He said he came up with the ranges by looking at comparable salaries in other New Jersey municipalities.
Council members were not convinced by the mayor’s argument.
“Don’t be deceived by the word ‘flexibility,’” said councilman Shahin Khalique. He said the measure is disguised to give large pay raises to the mayor’s directors.
“Once we approve this, he can decide whose salary is increased,” said council president Maritza Davila.
Sayegh has already budgeted for increases for some. For example, the departmental budget documents listed his business administrator Kathleen Long’s salary at $150,000. Her current salary is $110,000.
“This is an embarrassment. You should be embarrassed to even bring this forward,” added councilman Michael Jackson. “It’s an insult to members of this community.”
Sayegh attacked both men and accused them of being dishonest.
Khalique, Jackson, and Davila are known critics of the mayor. Even his allies on the council were uneasy with the mayor’s proposal.
“People are suffering,” said councilwoman Ruby Cotton. “Certain things are bad timing.”
Councilman Al Abdelaziz said he knows many residents who refuse to work for the local government because of low pay. He did not defend the mayor’s proposal.
“He’s going to have to defend his proposals,” said Abdelaziz of the mayor. He said the mayor is up for re-election is two years.
Some wanted to know how the mayor would determine who will receive a pay raise. Councilwoman Lilisa Mimms wanted to know whether raises will be tied to performance.
“How do we determine someone moving from $92,000 to $130,000?” asked Mimms.
“Relationships,” interjected Jackson.
Sayegh campaigned on his relationships producing benefits for Paterson during the 2018 mayoral campaign.
Sayegh said the measure is to set salary ranges and not give his cabinet members big raises.
“If he’s not giving increases, why are we talking about salary ranges?” said councilman Luis Velez.
Velez said the mayor should set the city’s finances in order, produce a surplus, and then come to the council to seek raises for his directors.
Davila said she felt uneasy bringing the proposed measure to the floor. She said the mayor insisted the measure be presented to the full council. On July 1, when a new City Council takes over, the mayor’s critics will have a stronger hand, leaving him with just three weeks to push through controversial measures.
“This is political suicide for you,” Velez told the mayor in the virtual meeting.
Council members tabled the measure after a lengthy discussion.
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