Hillside councilmembers missed a deadline to pay Mayor Dahlia Vertreese and the town’s business administrator, and they still have yet to pay another three in her administration.

Now, the mayor is accusing the council of playing politics. It’s the latest dispute between the mayor and council that’s been marked by lawsuits against each other over who has the power to pay bills: two were filed in 2019 and another from 2020 is ongoing.

“It’s amazing to me that we’re targeting three employees who all help me,” Vertreese told NJ Advance Media in an interview.

The seven-member council ultimately held a special meeting Monday to pay the mayor and business administrator for the next month. The amount of the paychecks that were lapsed was not immediately clear.

But there are still three in Vertreese’s administration — David Cummings, Steeve Augustin and Imo Rice — who haven’t gotten approval to be paid, said the mayor and Councilwoman At-Large Nancy Mondella.

Those three haven’t received paychecks because the council has yet to get information about their job titles or duties from the administration, said Council President Gerald Pateesh Freedman Mondella, who chairs the council’s finance committee.

“Everyone was getting paid except for all these questionable people in administration,” said Freedman, the council president, who accused the mayor of “paying people who we did not authorize to pay.”

Freedman said he asked the state comptroller to step in to review the town’s finances. The comptroller conducts audits and investigations of government agencies in New Jersey.

Two council members say the lapse in payment to the mayor and business administrator was not retaliatory.

The Jan. 28 council meeting — where the bills were up to be approved — was canceled because there weren’t enough council members present to hold a quorum. The meeting was rescheduled to Feb. 2, but that one was canceled because town hall was closed due to inclement weather, some council members said.

Council meetings are conducted over Zoom and haven’t been held in town hall due to the coronavirus.

“When town hall is closed, then all the auxiliary people don’t have to be involved,” said Freedman, adding that administrators would be unable to collect documents needed for the meetings when the building is closed.

Cummings is a Montclair councilman who has handled press inquiries from NJ Advance Media about Hillside in the past year. Vertreese said in an interview he handles public relations.

“It’s apparent the Council has decided to use the budget as a weapon to prevent the Mayor from having a complete staff,” said Cummings, who added that he was not yet paid.

The mayor said Augustin’s former title was an administrative secretary – until the state Civil Service Commission ruled in 2019 that he did not meet the experience requirements for the position. Vertreese said he now helps her with COVID-19 outreach and sending mail. Attempts to reach Augustin were unsuccessful.

Freedman said the mayor made Augustin head of recreation and then moved him to the head of human resources, but his salary has remained the same. The mayor ended a phone interview with NJ Advance Media when asked if he held any other positions in the last year.

Rice also works with Cummings in public relations and communications, Vertreese said. He could not be reached for comment.

Vertreese said Augustin makes about $80,000 annually and the other two men make about $25,000 combined. Smith’s salary is listed in pension records as $120,000, but the mayor said she recently gave her a $15,000 raise. Vertreese’s salary was not immediately clear.

The council committee finance chair, Mondella, said the town’s payroll was already approved in a temporary budget that’s being used for the next few months. They didn’t approve some line items in the administration’s budget because the council wanted to “keep a closer eye on” them, she said.

“So the only way that we can do that is to relegate monies monthly,” said Mondella, adding that the rest of the township’s employees are still being paid without monthly approval.

The mayor said the temporary budget is being used to control who is hired.

“This is basically the way they’ve controlled who was hired in the township and that’s not how the government is supposed to be run,” Vertreese said.

Who has the authority to truly do that is still being hashed out in Superior Court.

Freedman said he only forwarded information about Hillside’s budget to the state comptroller after he was told the division of Local Government Services did not have the statutory power to intervene. The mayor, however, said she reached out two years ago to Local Government Services.

The state division of Local Government Services, which reviews and approves all municipal budgets in the state, did not respond to a request for comment.

“We’re not going to rat on ourselves if we’re pulling all kinds of illegalities,” Freedman said.

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Rebecca Panico may be reached at [email protected].

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