An administrative law judge deemed two top Bayonne officials, the business administrator and the former director of municipal services, “not credible” in a ruling calling for three laid off employees to get their old jobs back.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“[Bayonne Business Administrator] Joseph DeMarco was not credible. His testimony was straightforward and direct. However, his testimony regarding the change in philosophy is simply not believable,” Administrative Law Judge Thomas R. Betancourt said in his 25-page November 2 ruling.
“While he stated he discussed this change in philosophy with others, there is no memorandum regarding any such meeting, or meetings. There is no memorandum circulated to employees regarding this change in philosophy. Most pointedly, he is the only witness that testified that there was a change in philosophy.”
The judge further questioned how a layoff plan could be possible without any memorandum, cost-benefit analysis or savings projection analysis in writing.
DeMarco was one of 17 witnesses who testified as part of a lawsuit filed by three former Bayonne municipal employees last year: Michael Mulcahy, Gary Parlatti and Michael Smith, who all worked for the city Department of Municipal Services at the time – mostly focusing on property maintenance enforcement.
Mulcahy and Parlatti were laid off, on June 2, 2015, respectively, while Smith was served his layoff notice on June 8, 2015, the judge deduced from witness testimony.
However, according to various other witness statements on the stand, “around 100 new employees” were hired, after the trio was laid off, including a new health officer with a starting salary of $150,000.
Additionally, stipends for clothing and cell phones and take home vehicles generally remained part of city policy and overtime was not scaled back, multiple witnesses testified.
Robert Wondolowski, the former director of municipal services who now works as the CarePoint public relations liaison for Bayonne, was the boss for all three plaintiffs prior to their exit.
Like DeMarco, his testimony in the matter was deemed “not credible” by the judge due to a number of conflicting statements made on the stand.
“Robert Wondolowski was not credible. On direct examination he stated he did not speak with Business Administrator DeMarco regarding layoffs. He also stated he did not discuss enforcement of property maintenance violations with Mr. DeMarco,” Betancourt said.
“On cross he stated he did discuss the budget and possibility of layoffs … he now recalled speaking with Mr. DeMarco about the number of violations issued and the need to be more passive in enforcement. On direct he stated he did not tell appellants to stop writing property maintenance violations. On cross he stated he told appellants to stop on several occasions.”
Wondolowski also said in court that he was not the one who laid off the employees in question, nor was he ever told of any cost savings related to the layoffs of the plaintiffs.
Citing case law, the judge said that layoffs are deemed necessary and in good faith when budgetary shortfalls occur, but no such circumstances were presented in this case.
“The record established in the instant matter overwhelmingly demonstrates that Bayonne did not effectuate the layoffs due to reasons of economy and severe budget shortfalls. It is not disputed that Bayonne had a budget deficit and needed to cut costs,” the judge ruled.
“Bayonne offers as the reason for the layoffs of the appellants due to a change in philosophy in the enforcement of the property maintenance code. This simply does not hold water. There is no credible evidence that this change in philosophy was put into place.”
As a result, the judge called for Mulcahy, Parlatti and Smith to be reinstated at their old positions, with back pay and benefits retroactive to July 17, 2015 – when Parlatti’s layoff officially took effect (the last one out of the trio).
Pete Cresci, a frequent administration critic, represented the three plaintiffs and expectedly praised the judge’s decision.
“We are satisfied with the extraordinarily specific Opinion of Judge Betancourt which orders and restores Mr. Mulcahy, Mr. Smith and Mr. Parlatti back to their positions of July 2015 with the City of Bayonne,” he said via text message.
“It’s important the City of Bayonne’s Property Maintenance Code is enforced, which includes illegal apartments, heat complaints and dangerous conditions which have led to fires in their absence.”
In a statement, Mulcahy, 46, who also lives in Bayonne, expressed content in the prospect of being able to return to his old job.
“The past 16 months have been very difficult for myself and for my family. We are relieved that these precarious times are now behind us. I look forward to returning to doing what I have always loved doing, that is helping the people of the city that I love.”
However, Andrew Casais, the Mayor Jimmy Davis’ chief of staff, said over the phone that the city maintains their original stance in the court matter and noted that the final decision comes from the state Civil Service Commission.
“Obviously, the city maintains our opinion and our objective that the positions were eliminated for reason of efficiency of economy and we don’t agree with the ruling of the judge,” stated Casais.
“The ruling now goes back to civil service to determine what’s going to happen. [The city is] still in a holding pattern, we felt like we did everything by the book and we’ll abide by whatever the final decision is, although this is not what we expected.”
DeMarco declined to comment, while Wondolowski could not be reached for comment.