In February 2016, the City of Buffalo accused a clerk in the fire department of tampering with the payroll in order to pad her checks.
Since then the former Jill Parisi — now appearing on city payroll records under her maiden name, Jill Repman — has collected well over a half million dollars while on paid administrative leave, awaiting a resolution to the disciplinary charges against her.
For six of those seven-and-a-half years, she has held a second job in the private sector, managing payroll for a local healthcare company.
According to the city’s law department, there was never any arbitration hearing to address the disciplinary charges the city brought against Repman.
Instead, according to payroll records, the city simply kept paying her.
She was recently ordered back to work, according to Fillmore District Council Member Mitch Nowakowski, who chairs the Council’s Civil Service Committee. Repman, 56, returned to her job shortly after Investigative Post began making inquiries about her employment status.
Nowakowski called the handling of Repman’s situation “maddening.”
He told Investigative Post he considered the situation “a breakdown of multiple entities within city government” that were responsible for resolving the allegations against Repman “in a timely manner.”
“There’s nothing timely about seven and half years,” he said.
“This is gravely concerning that we have somebody on the city payroll who’s been paid quite well — over $70,000 [annually] — for seven and a half years. Not working or doing duties on the behalf of the City of Buffalo. It’s alarming.”
Nowakowski said he confirmed Repman’s employment status with Mayor Byron Brown’s chief of staff, Michael Marcy, after Investigative Post asked Nowakowski if he, as Civil Service Committee chair, was aware of Repman’s case.
Marcy confirmed that Repman had been on paid leave, according to Nowakowski. Marcy also confirmed that the city ordered Repman back to work earlier this month. Investigative Post began to investigate Repman’s employment status in mid-August.
Prior to Nowakowski’s inquiry, nobody in City Hall answerable for Repman’s situation would respond to Investigative Post’s questions: not the office of the mayor, not his human resources commissioner, not the head of his law department, and not his fire commissioner.
They would not confirm Repman’s employment status. They would not discuss what became of the allegation that she manipulated the payroll system to her own benefit. They would not even say whether Repman — who has collected a paycheck from the city as recently as Aug. 31 — was still a city employee.
Caught in a City Hall elevator, Cavette Chambers — the city’s top attorney — said Investigative Post would have to file a Freedom of Information request to get an answer to that most basic of questions.
Not even Repman’s union — AFSCME Local 650, which vowed to fight the disciplinary charges against Repman when she was first accused — would respond to inquiries.
The allegations of wrongdoing
Repman started working for the city in November 1994. She went by Parisi at the time, having just married. She started as a civilian employee for the police department, then transferred two years later to the fire department, according to coverage of her case by The Buffalo News:
By 2009, she was promoted to senior administrative assistant. Payroll records show she often earned $70,000 or more annually with overtime going back to 2006, when her base pay was just over $36,000. She has a reputation as a hard worker, The Buffalo News was told.
But Repman was heading down a bad road financially, according to court records. Eventually she would lose her South Buffalo house to foreclosure. She declared bankruptcy after racking up nearly $193,000 in debt in home loans, back taxes, credit card bills, and unpaid attorney fees — all detailed in court filings.
As her financial woes were mounting, she was accused — first by the city comptroller, then by the Brown administration — of logging into the fire department’s payroll system and altering her Social Security/Medicare FICA deductions in order to increase her biweekly take-home pay by a few hundred dollars.
She did this twice, according to then Comptroller Mark Schroeder’s office. After the first padded check was issued, she undid the change.
The second time, the comptroller’s office caught the discrepancy, according to The News.
She was placed on administrative leave on Feb. 2, 2016. After a week’s investigation, the Brown administration brought disciplinary charges against her.
Again from The Buffalo News’s 2016 report:
With disciplinary charges filed Friday against Parisi, the clock now starts ticking on the disciplinary process. Parisi can be suspended without pay for 30 days. During that time, a meeting will be conducted to see if Parisi and the Brown administration can reach an agreement on what occurred and what, if any, discipline is warranted.
If they can’t agree, the case will likely go to binding arbitration, in which an arbitrator serves as judge and jury, deciding Parisi’s fate.
Cathy Creighton, a Buffalo labor attorney who serves as director of Cornell University Industrial and Labor Relations Buffalo Co-Lab, told Investigative Post that Repman’s case ordinarily would follow a pattern prescribed by state labor law and the union contract’s provisions for disciplining employees.
“The collective bargaining agreement has a procedure which allows the City to bring an employee up on charges,” Creighton said.
“If the employee pleads not guilty to the charges, the City can then hold a hearing seeking discharge and the employee has the right to be represented by their union.”
Repman was suspended without pay for 30 days while that procedure unfolded. After 30 days unpaid suspension, the city was obligated to resume paying Repman until the disciplinary charges against her were resolved.
That was seven and half years ago. Fast-forward to today.
On Aug. 31, the city cut Repman a paycheck, as it has done every two weeks for nearly 29 years. The latest check was for $2,727, according to city payroll records. With longevity bonuses, she’s been paid nearly $15,000 since July 1. She’s on track to take in more than $72,000 in the city’s current budget year.
Between 2016 and 2023, the city paid Repman $572,067, according to state payroll records compiled by The Empire Center, a government watchdog group based in Albany.
Under state labor law, Repman continues to earn health and pension benefits, as well as vacation and sick days, while on paid leave. If she stays on the payroll through November of next year, she’ll hit her 30th anniversary as a public employee, qualifying her for a state pension at 60 percent of the average of her highest three consecutive years of earnings.
Applying that formula to her earnings over the last three completed fiscal years, her annual pension would be $42,577.
Stonewalling and silence
Repman appears to have taken a job in the private sector in 2017 with Allwel Western New York, a company that provides at-home nursing care for patients suffering from dementia and other illnesses and impairments.
According to her profile page on the company’s website — which was taken down earlier this week — Repman handles the company’s payroll.
A phone call to the company’s payroll department yielded the voicemail of a woman who identified herself as “Jill.” In a followup call, an Allwel employee confirmed Repman worked for the company but told Investigative Post she was on vacation.
During a visit to Allwel’s office, another company employee confirmed that Repman was employed by the company, said she primarily worked from home, and agreed to pass Repman a message that she should call Investigative Post. She did not call.
Nor did she respond to emails directed to her Allwel address. An email to her former fire department email address bounced back, labeled “couldn’t be found.”
Indeed, nobody connected with Repman’s situation, now or in the past, would talk about her case.
Back in 2016, Michael Drennen — then president of AFSCME Local 650 — told The Buffalo News the union would defend Repman against the city’s disciplinary charges.
“She engaged in no wrongdoing, and once the facts come out, that will be proven,” he said.
When asked last month to discuss the history of Repman’s case, Drennen replied by email, “I have been retired for 6 years, therefore I have no idea what the present situation is.”
Another past union president, Richard Bartolotta, responded similarly.
Both Drennen and Bartolotta referred Investigative Post to the union’s present leadership.
The union’s current president is Tracy Healy, who works in the city’s Department of Human Resources. Healy ignored numerous phone calls and emails asking for comment. We slipped two notes under the locked door of the AFSCME Local 650 office on the 22nd floor of City Hall. Nobody responded.
The day after leaving the second note, we intercepted Healy as she left the elevator on the 22nd floor. She ducked into the union’s office, closed the door, locked it behind her, and said through the door, “No comment.”
Investigative Post also sought comment from Buffalo Fire Commissioner William Renaldo, on whose payroll Repman remains; Chambers, the corporation counsel whose department would have prosecuted the disciplinary charges brought against Repman in arbitration hearings; Human Resources Commissioner Gladys Herndon-Hill; and Michael DeGeorge, the mayor’s senior advisor and communications director.
Specifically, we asked if the disciplinary charges against Repman had been heard by an arbitrator in the seven-and-a-half years since she was accused, and if any decision had been rendered. We asked for confirmation of Repman’s current employment status.
None responded to those questions. Reached on his cell phone, Renaldo hung up. Chambers told us to file a Freedom of Information request, a directive DeGeorge repeated.
Investigative Post has done so, requesting Repman’s personnel record. The city has yet to acknowledge that FOI request or provide any documents.
However, a separate request to the city’s law department for arbitration records yielded a response: The city “has no arbitration records to provide,” a law department employee responded to that inquiry, and suggested the matter may have been resolved “prior to arbitration.”
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That comports with what Creighton, the Cornell labor law expert, told Investigative Post.
“If the employee has remained on the payroll for years without working, it must mean that the City did not move the discipline to a hearing,” she said.
But Creighton was baffled by the fact that Repman’s case appears to be unresolved.
“I cannot think of any rational explanation why the City would continue to pay an employee on suspension for years rather than move the matter to a hearing before a hearing officer,” she said.
Nowakowski, the Civil Service Committee chair, said the mayor’s office did not tell him if there had been any settlement or other resolution to the disciplinary charges against Repman outside the arbitration process.
“They did confirm that she was on paid administrative leave for seven-and-a-half years,” he said. “[They] have confirmed that she is back to work in the City of Buffalo on site.”
Repman — under her married name, Parisi — donated $2,980 to the mayor’s campaign committees between 2007 and 2015, according to state campaign finance records. She gave $200 more to the Committee for Change, a defunct campaign committee that was run by Brown’s former deputy mayor, Steve Casey.
She has given nothing under either last name since she was put on leave.
“It is gravely concerning and really maddening,” Nowakowski said of the city’s unresponsiveness, adding that he held responsible not only the mayor, but the comptroller’s office, the city’s human resources department, Repman’s union, and the fire department that kept Repman on the payroll through eight budget cycles.
“I mean, this is an erosion of trust from entities that are charged to be stewards of city taxpayer dollars,” he said.
“I know that other Council members besides myself are going to be really deeply disturbed.”