Audit faults water department handling of overtime

Apr. 30, 2013 @ 06:56 PM

Auditors have criticized the city Water Management Department’s handling of overtime payments to a number of supervisors who work in its maintenance division.

Their report, relayed to the City Council for a scheduled meeting next week, scored the oversight of four “utility system supervisors” who pulled down a combined $116,777 in overtime in fiscal 2011-12.

The base salaries of the four totaled $237,834, so the overtime collectively increased their pay by 49 percent.

Audit Services Director Germaine Brewington and her staff said they found no evidence of fraud. But they also didn’t see that Water Management’s leaders had insisted on documenting the reasons for the extra work.

“Management assumed that overtime was necessary given the job responsibilities” the supervisors had at the time, the auditors said in their report. “However, they did not question the amount of overtime claimed, nor did they question whether the overtime was necessary to carry out the work.”

Water Management Director Don Greeley said the report is prompting a tightening of procedures in his department, to include prior approval before employees incur overtime and more reporting around those decisions.

“What we need to do is provide better documentation than we have for the work that’s being done,” he said.

The department’s utility system supervisors are basically section heads in maintenance who coordinate the efforts of the crews who perform line repairs, system renovations, meter upkeep and other tasks. They rotate on-call duties that can require them to work off-hours and weekends when there’s an emergency.

Repeating the explanation given the auditors, Greeley said the department’s overtime bills had gone up in part because of the ongoing effort to replace existing water meters with radio-readable models.

The initial stages of that program saw crews have to perform “a lot of [extra] service adjustments” because the new meters wouldn’t necessarily fit into the same spaces as the old ones, he said.

That was because the antenna on the meters acquired for the first couple phases of installations protruded 2 or 3 inches above the meter.

The fit issues were significant enough that officials eventually slowed down the installations until the manufacturer produced a new model of meter that had the antenna on the side, positioning that made them a better fit for the city’s existing meter boxes.

Greeley said some of the overtime also came as the department responded to staff vacancies.

He acknowledged that the auditors had raised fair points.

“With several of the people, we knew the overtime was getting high, and we want to be able to manage those dollars down,” Greeley said. “If you look at the numbers, it’s putting a lot of wear and tear on our employees, and we certainly don’t want to run them into the ground. So we’re looking to improve our management of overtime.”

The individual supervisors received anywhere from $17,615 to $43,248 in extra pay, for anywhere from 410 to 1,055 overtime hours. The high end of that range implies that someone is working about 60 hours a week.

City Manager Tom Bonfield said it’s clear the “management and oversight” of the situation “was not at the expected level.”

“That level of overtime requires a management intervention long before it’s discovered as result of an audit,” he added. “Whether it’s perceived as legitimate or not, it’s still something that raises a lot of eyebrows, and in many cases unnecessary suspicions.”

He added that departments have been instructed to keep a closer eye on overtime claims. But the report has not resulted in “any kind of formal discipline such as suspension or termination.”

The audit is the second from Brewington and her staff in four years to fault a city department for its handling of overtime.

A 2009 special investigation of the Police Department found that a desk officer assigned to run its “secondary employment” program had pulled down $62,583 in overtime, more than double her annual salary, in the course of a year or so.

The officer, Alesha Robinson-Taylor, was eventually fired after officials concluded that she couldn’t document her claims to have worked that many hours. The deputy chief who signed off on her pay stubs retired and Police Chief Jose Lopez got a written reprimand.

Robinson-Taylor has since sued the city. She and her lawyer say that she actually worked the hours she claimed and was the victim of poor supervision.

All told, the city paid employees $1.8 million in overtime in fiscal 2011-12.

Auditors said the other claims they looked at for the new report seemed well-grounded and well-documented. That included $11,073 in payments to a police detective who could point to a specific case as the reason for extra work.