City council members demanded an explanation from mayor Jose “Joey” Torres and his administration on Tuesday night for thousands of dollars in compensatory time payouts issued to police officers in this month’s first pay period.
The city paid out $131,470 for compensatory time to eight police officers. The checks issued on January 1st, 2017 ranged from $7,619 to $23,421, according to documents provided to council members.
Council members questioned the payouts. Council president William McKoy called the payouts “highly unusual” and demanded an explanation from the administration. “These payments are significant and unusual,” said McKoy. “I’ve not seen this before and I’ve been sitting here for 16 years.”
Michael Jackson, 1st Ward councilman, said he was “blindsided” when the administration sought approval for the payments.
“Do we have any documents to substantiate the claim these were authorized hours of work?” asked McKoy. He wanted to know how the hours were calculated to come up with the pay amounts, the number of hours worked, and who were the authorizing supervisors.
Business administrator Nellie Pou said there are documents substantiating the hours for which the officers received payouts.
“What steps did you take to assure yourself these amounts were accurate and complete?” McKoy asked Pou. She said the checks, which are listed as manual checks, were approved through personnel. The calculations are done by the city’s payroll supervisor, said the business administrator.
Though listed as manual checks, finance director Fabiana Mello said these are not manual checks, but are called manual checks because these are separate run from ordinary payroll. “Going forward can we change the name to what it is? If it’s a second run, call it a second run,” said McKoy.
As the council president assailed the administration with questions, the mayor walked into the council chamber. When questioned by McKoy, Torres said: “You’re going to have to entrust those you put into authority.”
Torres said the amounts were overtime pay for the officers. McKoy was not willing to take the mayor’s word, he wanted documentations to verify the amounts with records.
McKoy said this is not overtime. He said these are supplemental checks. He also noted overtime is usually paid in the pay period in which it is incurred.
“It’s still overtime, we paid it a little later at the overtime rate,” said Torres. “I will give you the documentation to verify it.” He said the police contract allows officers the option to take comp time or overtime. The officers are capped to 480 hours of comp times, said Torres. An officer usually accumulates comp hours through the course of his career and cashes them out prior to retirement.
The officers are being paid for hours that exceeded the cap set by federal labor laws. Torres said comp hours were accrued by officers last year when the council and administration butted heads over the municipal budget.
“They incurred the overtime when the council did not want to approve the budget. We didn’t have money to demand the officers work for their overtime, they worked their comp time,” said Torres. “These are not additional tax dollars.” He said the funds to pay for the comp hours are coming out of the city’s overtime budget.
Some of the hours for which payments were issued go back a decade or so, said council members. The council president wondered how the comp time could go back to last year when some of the hours go back 10 years.
Torres said the bulk of it is from the past several years.
The mayor said officers worked overtime on shootings and murders over the past year. He said the officers were offered comp time in place of overtime to investigate shootings and murders last year.
Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, said there’s a reason why the hours are capped. He urged the administration to put in place procedures to prevent officers from exceeding the 480 hours. He suggested punishing those who exceed the cap.
“Those hours incurred over the cap should be taken as time off,” said Morris. “There was a management decision, because of a lack of men power, to allow them to receive pay rather than take time off,” said Morris.
Torres said there are “checks and balances” in place without providing any specifics.
The council held off approving the payouts. In all, the city issued $150,181 in manual checks to 25 employees. Some of the checks were to change pay rates, correct missed hours, and issue late retroactive payments.
The checks have already been issued, said officials. The officers to receive comp time payouts were Antonio Blasucci, $10,442; Paul Miccinilli, $22,948; captain Patrick Murray, $14,963; deputy chief Troy Oswald, $21,591; lieutenant Ivette Otero, $23,421; lieutenant Glenn Browining, $20,458; Rory Buchanan, $7,619; and sergeant Anthony Hyatt, $10,028.
Though the council questioned the administration, council members said so long as the hours can be substantiated the officers should receive their due pay. ”I don’t expect anyone to work for free. If you work you should be paid,” said McKoy.
The council president is waiting on a memo from the mayor and documentation to substantiate the hours.