Spiraling overtime on the one hand, and a snafu over regular pay procedures for city police on the other, were hot button topics for members of Jersey City government at Monday night’s City Council caucus.

On the first issue, several council members took exception to Ward E Councilmember James Solomon’s call for submission to the council of monthly reports on employee overtime—and for police in particular.

Solomon is pressing for passage of an ordinance—due for a public hearing at Wednesday’s meeting—that would require city department heads to keep the council in the loop on O.T. payments so that the council can strategize with those administrators to rein in spending.

To help prevent exceeding budgeted allocations, Solomon is also pushing for more timely submission of budget projections by department heads and of the annual audit of city finances as part of the proposed ordinance. For the past year, he said, the city had to cover a $3 million gap in the amount budgeted for police O.T.

While his colleagues agreed on taking a more active role in monitoring overall city spending, Ward B Councilmember Mira Prinz-Arey and Councilmember-at-large Amy DeGise cautioned that asking department directors to compile monthly O.T. breakdowns was asking too much.  That would require “a lot of work,” Prinz-Arey said.  “Maybe there’s another way to do it.”

Expecting that kind of monthly detail would impose “a burden” on department heads, DeGise said.  And, she added, there could be a legal dilemma involved in reviewing individual employee O.T. records.

Councilmember-at-large Daniel Rivera said “a lot” of the police O.T. was being used to maintain “fixed posts” in high-crime areas to prevent crime and for public events. “Are we looking to limit our city’s traditions for (legitimate) parade expenses?”  

Ward C Councilmember Richard Boggiano said that for the relative low starting pay police receive, the O.T. “helps pay for family expenses.”  Boggiano said he had ideas for cost-cutting in various departments but “we should have a closed session” for a more detailed discussion—a suggestion that city Corporation Counsel Peter Baker warned could be problematic, given the legal guidelines limiting the types of discussions from which the public can be excluded.

Council President Joyce Watterman said she agreed with Prinz-Arey and Degise that expecting department heads to come up with detailed monthly O.T. reports “is a lot of work.” She traced the problem to a lack of sufficient oversight by the council.  “We’re not at the table with the finance director at the beginning (of the budget process),” she said.  “We have to work as a team to operate the city.”

For his part, Solomon said he’d be amenable to modifying or deleting from the proposed ordinance the section compelling the production of monthly O.T. reports if that was the will of his colleagues.

In early 2018, Mayor Steve Fulop incurred the wrath of the city police union after ordering an end to the longstanding practice of allowing off-duty cops to pocket extra cash from utilities or construction companies by directing traffic around road excavations, moving of heavy equipment and the like in the aftermath of a federal fraud investigation. The off-duty cops program was restored two years later.

Meanwhile, a separate issue over police pay surfaced when Rivera mentioned how, “This past week, the (bi-weekly) payroll for police was abysmal (and) this was the first pay period we went live with our new system…. Many officers took to social media ripping the city (over this lapse).”

John Metro, the city business administrator, attributed the problem to difficulties experienced by the vendor (Unicorn  HRO, LLC, of Florham Park) adapting its system to more than 25 police employee work schedules geared to different shift assignments.  He said he and staff from the city treasurer’s office labored 14 hours over this past weekend in lengthy Zoom calls with the vendor to remedy the issues.

“By the next pay period,” Metro said, “this should be resolved.  It’s just a matter of growing pains.”

Watterman wondered whether any city employees were “trained on the (new payroll) system” to deal with such lapses.  “Why isn’t someone from each (city) department designated (to operate the system)?”  she asked.

Metro said that “five additional training sessions are being set up” to ensure that city employees can step up to handle such situations in future.  Currently, he said, certain staffers are serving as “floaters” to try and fill those gaps but, from now on, he said, those individuals will be assigned to specific departments.

In March 1991, with council approval, Unicorn HRO was contracted to provide payroll and human resources services for the Departments of Finance and Human Resources after having submitted the lowest of 12 bids for three years at a total cost of $1,350,300 with renewal options for two additional years.

Unicorn HRO was to receive an annual $400,100 “licensing and support” fee and a $150,000 “implementation fee…not payable until the system goes live” with a projected “implementation period of six months.”

The service was to cover more than 3,000 Civil Service employees, 140 Public Library staffers, 600 summer workers and off-duty police.  And it was to be designed to “provide an employee self-service portal” including access to bi-weekly paystubs, payroll history, ability to manage salary adjustments and W-4 income tax filing status and leave accruals.

In other business, Boggiano, once again, debated Stacey Flanagan, city director of Health & Human Services, and Vivian Brady-Phillips, executive director of the Jersey City Housing Authority, about whether the council should approve a lease agreement between the JCHA, the city and Garden State Community Development Corp. for the use of office space at JCHA’s Hudson Gardens site, 514 Newark Ave., to provide services to the homeless.

“I want this (ordinance) pulled,” Boggiano said. “The (tenants) of the Gardens don’t want it.” He faulted the homeless for loitering outside the site, urinating in the street and sleeping inside the site. “Garden State (which has offered resources for the homeless at the site the past several years) should get out and go somewhere else,” he said.  Brady-Phillips said she was unaware of any such complaints by the Gardens’ residents.  “They have raised concerns about cleanliness in the halls and other Housing Authority issues,” she said, “but I’m open to further conversations” about enhancing security and well-being of residents 

The proposed reconfiguration of space at the site would allow for installation of an elevator to get homeless clients directly to Garden State staff for shelter and job referral assistance, showers, laundry and meals, Flanagan said. “Without this,” she said, “we don’t have a way to support homeless services.”

Said Watterman: “The more the city is invested in (the program), the more input we can have in it, the more we can do about it.  Homelessness is something we all have to deal with.”

The council is due to vote on the lease agreement at Wednesday’s meeting.

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Ron Leir

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...