Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ administration has refused to provide documents showing the manner in which $773,187 in overtime was spent in a single month, June 2014, at the Department of Public Works (DPW).
“As a member of the legislative branch, you may request certain information but the BA [business administrator] is not obligated to honor your DPW overtime request,” wrote Domenick Stampone, the city’s law director, in response to a legal opinion sought by Julio Tavarez, 5th Ward councilman.
The director cited the Faulkner Act, which sets up the structure of local government, to assert the administration is not required to provide the requested overtime data.
Tavarez is seeking two years’ worth of public works overtime spending data. Business administrator Nellie Pou has said Tavarez is seeking information that is very detailed and will likely be “voluminous” like justification for each instance of overtime, ID of each employee, and whether the overtime was incurred due to some natural calamity.
Stampone’s letter was read into the record by Tavarez on Tuesday evening. The letter further states that to compile the data into a report will require “significant man-hours as the data does not exist in an easily searchable format.”
“The administration has no idea how the money is being spent and who is really getting paid this overtime,” said Tavarez. “That’s troubling the fact that this administration cannot accurately provide information about how they are spending the money of our taxpayers.”
Tavarez said the administration does not appear to care to look into the suspect $773,000 overtime that was paid out in June 2014.
“That’s a severe spike,” said Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman. “We’re asking legitimate questions.”
These are irregular numbers, said Sayegh. He pointed out the overtime happened under Torres’ predecessor Jeffery Jones. In May 2014, Christopher Coke, the public works director at the time, had left, after Jones suffered a defeat at the polls.
Coke did not respond to a call for comments earlier in the month.
“This month they didn’t do much,” said Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman, 2nd Ward councilman, about June 2014. He said he called for numerous problems in his ward, but did not receive responses. “This was one of the lame duck months,” he said.
“We have to get to the bottom of this. Something went wrong there,” said Akhtaruzzaman. Council members have said the administration may be hiding something by not providing the requested data.
“What are we trying to hide here?” asked Tavarez.
The business administrator said that is not the case. She said the Torres administration has been providing overtime reports every two weeks. She said the administration can provide overtime data for any specific period, but not compile a comprehensive report as was requested by Tavarez.
Alex Mendez, councilman at-large, urged the administration to work with council members to determine how the money was spent.
Stampone in his letter told Tavarez to file an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request to obtain the records he is seeking.
Tavarez said he will file a request to obtain the data.
“It’s our responsibility to watch our taxpayer dollars,” said Mendez.