Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Check Report Draws a Blank

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Check Report Draws a Blank

Article excerpt

PATERSON -- After a five-month inquiry into a $74,000 severance check issued to former Mayor Joey Torres, the city administration produced a 26-page report that does not say whether the payment was proper.

The lack of any findings or recommendations in the report stunned City Council members, who directed the administration to continue working on the document.

"Unfortunately, this reflects poorly on all of us because it has been too long," said Andre Sayegh, City Council president.

The extra work on the report will prolong the controversy over the severance payment, allowing the issue to drag on closer to the city's May 13 election -- a contest in which Torres will be running for mayor.

Under the plan outlined Tuesday night, the city's law director, Domenick Stampone, would use the information contained in the current version of the report to write a legal opinion on whether the check issued to Torres was legal. As part of that process, the administration also would contact Torres and allow him to respond to the findings.

Some council members bemoaned the delay. But Stampone said he thinks the extra work will be finished within several weeks.

At issue is the $73,996 payment that Torres' staff provided him on his last day in office in 2010. The check included $50,244 for 110 unused sick days and $23,752 for accrued vacation days, according to city documents. Three previous Paterson mayors have said they never received such payments and critics have insisted the payment violated city municipal regulations.

Torres has said he did nothing wrong, saying that his own research has found that hundreds of other city employees took the same type of payment. But council members have asserted that elected officials like the mayor are not entitled to such severance money.

Councilman Julio Tavarez compared Torres' severance payment to the overtime payment issued more than two years ago to Mayor Jeffery Jones -- a check Jones eventually returned. …

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