Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ administration authorized police officers to rack up large amounts of comp hours that led to the city paying out almost $132,000 to eight police officers.
Council members raised questions about the compensatory time payouts last month. Council president William McKoy demanded the administration provide an accounting and explanation for the hours that led to the big payouts.
Torres provided an explanation to the council on Tuesday night. “We were shutting down government, there was no money, a decision was made by the administration and the union to offer these individuals comp time so when there was shootings or killings I had equal manpower for police services,” Torres told the council.
The administration entered into an agreement with both the rank and file and the superior officers police unions in January 2016 that allowed police officers to work overtime and earn compensatory time (“special compensatory time”).
“Did the council accept this memorandum of understanding?” asked McKoy.
“It doesn’t require the council’s approval,” replied Torres. He said the council gave him approval through the budget and through the labor contracts with both unions. “The council already gave me authority with the contract,” he said.
McKoy said this is a special arrangement between the city and the labor unions outside of the labor contracts approved by the council. Torres also cited the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) which states police and fire employees may be given comp time by local government agencies in lieu of overtime.
The labor law allows police officers to accrue up to 480 hours of comp time. In this case, eight police officers went over that number. Council members worried the accumulation of comp time by police officers was creating a time bomb that would explode when officers cash out at retirement.
Torres said there are safeguards in place to prevent comp time from becoming a “runaway train.”
“Since I took over, no one is going over 480,” added acting police chief Troy Oswald. He provided council members with a large folder of documents that had timesheets, authorizations, and other back up documents.
The administration did not make public the records provided to the council. Police director Jerry Speziale said the documents contained internal affairs and other reports that contained personal information of the officers. Torres at first refused to provide the agreement the city struck with the unions and the overtime policies promulgated by police; after consulting with law director Domenick Stampone, Torres provided both the policies and the agreement.
“They have to take at least 50-percent of what they accumulate on an annual basis,” Torres told the council. “They can use half and they can bank half. This way it’s not a runaway train.”
McKoy, who last month asked for documents substantiating the hours for the payouts, was told by the acting chief the hours are documented and signed off by police supervisors. The acting chief said the hours are then sent to payroll.
“So personnel or payroll never sees the authorization? They just see the hours come in from department?”
“Yes, that’s correct,” replied Oswald.
“They should see it. If your person makes a mistake it’s unlikely anybody would know it,” said McKoy.
The council president said an independent individual should input the hours rather than the department.
Torres said the software system the city purchased from Edmunds & Associates will allow police to send the supporting documents to payroll. He said it will also contain a summary of the hours on paychecks.