Residents of Paterson, New Jersey were divided Friday in their response to the I-Team's exclusive report Thursday that city workers were videotaped on several occasions doing jobs at Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’s private residence.
Some residents said they feel it’s inappropriate for city workers to do private jobs for Torres.
“If he stays in his position, we’re going to lose more tax dollars,” said resident Haytham Younes.
But others said as long as Torres is paying the employees personally and they’re not on the clock for the city, they don’t see a problem with it.
“I don’t think there’s nothing wrong with what he’s doing,” said Myesha Daniels, who supports Torres. “It’s hard to find contractors these days.”
The I-Team reported Thursday that a private investigator filmed city workers doing jobs for the mayor, both at his home and at a second location, a planned business on East 15th Street for a relative of the mayor. The private investigator, who was hired by a contractor in a dispute with the city, followed the mayor off and on for about a year beginning in November 2014.
That private investigator, Harry Melber, received a subpoena from the New Jersey Attorney General’s office Friday, asking him to turn over materials related to the case.
Paterson city council members have called for county and state prosecutors to investigate whether the mayor has used city workers improperly.
"If he has nothing to hide, he has nothing to be concerned about. And therefore an investigation wouldn’t be a factor," said city councilman Michael Jackson.
Torres said in a written statement he will be cleared and he blamed one of his rivals on the council for the videos surfacing now. But that rival, Andre Sayegh, said the mayor has only himself to blame.
“They should not be at his house. He can hire contractors to do that work. There are plenty of people in Paterson looking for that work," said Sayegh.
On one occasion, two men identified as city employees are shown on video on a Saturday carrying a large beer cooler into Torres’s home. One of the men was on the clock while he was doing that job, city records show.
In other cases, workers were paid overtime on the same days they were filmed doing tasks at the mayor’s house. The I-Team is still waiting for records detailing the exact hours they worked for the city those same days.
Torres declined the I-Team’s request for an interview, writing in an email: “Please be advised that at no time has any city employee, on city time, or overtime, or paid with taxpayer dollars, ever performed work for me at my home, or anywhere else.”
In a Paterson Press newspaper report about the I-Team’s story, Torres told the newspaper that in one case, one or two city employees worked at his property to build four bookshelves in his daughter’s bedroom in the past year. He said the job was done on the employees’ own time, and he paid for the supplies and gave the employees $50 of his own money for the work.
Several of the employees seen on the tapes spoke with the I-Team. They said they did the work as personal favors for Torres on their own time. In a few cases, the city workers said Torres paid them out of his own pocket for the private jobs they did for him.
Questions about the employees seen at the mayor’s home come amid a budget crisis in Paterson. At recent city council meetings, angry residents have complained about rising taxes and failing city services.
The city council finally passed a budget this week after an earlier budget rejection forced employees to stay home for a day without pay, and closed Paterson’s libraries, senior services and after-school recreation programs.