Mayor Andre Sayegh’s administration came under scrutiny on Tuesday night for excessive overtime spending in the business administrator’s office.
Council members said three employees in business administrator Kathleen Long’s office racked up 171 hours of overtime in a two-week pay period. One assistant business administrator put in 74 hours of overtime. Another assistant business administrator put in 53 hours. And an administrative secretary put in 44 hours of overtime.
“We need to be mindful of how we spend city dollars,” said council president Flavio Rivera, chairman of the finance committee. “It’s just ridiculous, all this overtime.”
Long said three people in her department are preparing the departmental budgets. She said her staff have been meeting with various department heads in long meetings.
“Just the amount of work that goes into the preparation of a budget is tremendous. When you only have two staff members working in totality on it, as well as one who’s supporting it, it does take a lot of time,” said Long.
Rivera said department heads should be preparing their budgets and submitting it to the business office. He said Long and her team are micromanaging the departmental budget process.
Long said her department is still under budget on overtime spending.
“Overtime is justified,” said Long. “We’re being straight forward and honest about this.”
Councilwoman Maritza Davila said Long’s justifications are putting a “shadow” or “lining over” the true situation.
“I’m wondering what they were doing during the day?” said Rivera. “That means that they cannot perform their work during the day, and I don’t understand why.”
Council members pointed out Long’s entire office was placed under quarantine during the pay period when the employees racked up the overtime hours. As a result, she and her staff had to work from home.
Mayor Andre Sayegh defended his business administrator during the meeting. She is “honest, effective, and diligent,” he said. He and his administration face criticism just about every week from council members for general incompetence, cronyism, and maladministration.
“I’m trying to understand where and when is this going to be curbed?” said councilman Michael Jackson. “Because this kind of activity is absolutely unacceptable.”
Jackson alleged lack of oversight from the business administrator. He claimed some of the employees were signing off on each other’s overtime timesheets.
Even some of the mayor’s allies on the City Council were disturbed by the overtime spending in Long’s office.
Councilman Luis Velez wanted evidence the overtime hours were legitimate. He wanted a log of the work that was performed by the three employees, showing the duration spent on the tasks.
“Do you keep track of that?” asked Velez.
Long said there are emails that are exchanged when employees are working overtime hours.
“We do see that there is work products happening because of this time,” said Long. She said the work products are reviewed the next morning.
Councilwoman Lilisa Mimms said the overtime expenditures warrant an “immediate review.” She also suggested bringing the employees before the council for a legislative hearing.
Failed personnel committee meeting
Some council members tried to discuss the overtime situation in the personnel committee late last week, but the Sayegh administration’s intransigence scuttled the meeting, they said. The virtual meeting to discuss the overtime spending collapsed.
“The BA decided to walk out of the meeting,” said Davila, chairwoman of the personnel committee.
Long said the meeting was scheduled for 12 p.m. She logged in via Zoom, waited 10 minutes, for council members. She then left the meeting. Council members were also waiting to be queued into the meeting by City Hall technicians.
Council members called Long later, but she did not respond, according to council members.
Both sides were scheduled to discuss personnel issues for one hour.
“There was no courtesy to even respect my time,” said Long. She said an agenda for the meeting was sent to her at 12:18 p.m.
Council members on the committee, who have full-time jobs, had to take time off to attend the meeting.
“Some of us took our lunch break to come here,” said Rivera. “The ten minutes you were waiting for us, you were getting paid for.”
Long also said council members sent her a request for information an hour before the meeting. She was expected to have that information for the meeting. Rivera said he requested overtime information that could be obtained in one minute with a phone call to payroll.
Overtime fraud has been a constant issue over the past decade. Sayegh criticized his predecessor for excessive overtime spending. Over the past two years, Sayegh has excused the explosion of overtime spending under his watch. Former mayor Jose “Joey” Torres and three public works supervisors were convicted for overtime fraud in 2017.
Several council members wanted an executive session or a public legislative hearing to investigate the excessive overtime spending in the business office.
“There’s so much more that’s going to be coming to light,” said Davila.
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