Audit: Overtime rises at 2 bureaus

Some of the payments to supervisors may not have been authorized

Overtime and comp-time payments to Portland public works supervisors have doubled over the past three years - and some of those payments were not authorized by city personnel rules, according to the city auditor's office.

An audit released today found that overtime and comp-time payments to supervisors at two city agencies - the Bureau of Maintenance of the Portland Office of Transportation and the Bureau of Water Works - jumped from $204,615 in 2003 to $418,304 in 2005.

Altogether, 38 supervisors in the two bureaus received nearly $1 million in time-and-a-half overtime pay and equivalent work time off during the past three years, according to the audits. Although today's audit did not identify the employees by name or list how much they received, it found that agency managers were not always following personnel rules that limit the conditions for claiming overtime and comp time.

For Commissioner Sam Adams, who is in charge of the transportation office, the audit confirms his growing suspicions that the management of the maintenance bureau is 'sloppy.'

Tuesday's audit is the fourth one released this year to question the bureau's administration. The previous audits said the bureau had not followed state laws governing in-house paving projects, had paid too much for asphalt and had routinely purchased asphalt from private companies that did not meet its own standards.

'Either the practices at the maintenance bureau need to change or the personnel does,' said Adams, who sent a letter to all bureau employees Oct. 10 saying he wants solutions for all of the problems identified in the four audits within 60 days. The letter also announced a mandatory meeting of all bureau employees with city Auditor Gary Blackmer on Nov. 17.

Commissioner Randy Leonard, who is in charge of the water bureau, said he also is concerned about Tuesday's audit findings, but not to the point of threatening anyone's job. The audit was the first one this year for the water bureau.

'I need to understand more about how this has happened and then see what we can do to prevent any more problems,' Leonard said.

Yvonne Deckard, the director of the Bureau of Human Resources who administers the personnel rules, said she was disappointed to learn the two agencies had not been following the ones on overtime and comp time. Deckard said it was impossible to determine how often the rules were violated because of the way time records are maintained, but said it could have been 'frequently.'

'I can't tell whether it's one-half or one-third of the time. The records just don't have enough detail,' she said.

Deckard said she wanted to study the audit in depth before meeting with the City Council to determine her next steps. She ruled out trying to collect any of the inappropriately paid money, however, because of the lack of clear records.

'At this point, I just don't think it could be done,' she said.

Drummond Kahn, director of the audit services division that conducted the audit, said he did not believe any of the supervisors had intentionally defrauded the city. Kahn said all of the supervisors were open about the work they performed and were convinced all of the payments were allowed under the rules.

'No one was trying to cheat the system. The payments were properly recorded,' Kahn said.

Changes made in 2002

The audit is titled 'Public Works Supervisor Overtime: City Rules Allowing Overtime Need Clarification.' It was requested by Deckard's bureau to determine whether supervisors in the two agencies were complying with new overtime and comp-time rules adopted by the council in 2002.

According to Deckard, the new rules were adopted to rein in spiraling overtime and comp-time payments to the hundreds of supervisors scattered throughout all city agencies. The rules said that in the future, supervisors could claim leave instead of money for the overtime they worked.

The rules made an exception for supervisors in the maintenance and water bureaus, however, because they frequently have work crews working in the field.

According to the audit, the rules allow supervisors in those two bureaus to receive overtime and comp time when they work overtime physically supervising a crew in the field or when they respond to urgent situations, such as weather-related emergencies, infrastructure-system failures or when they aid other bureaus responding to urgent situations.

But when the auditors reviewed a sample of the payments received by the supervisors, they found numerous instances of supervisors receiving such payments when they were not in the field.

According to the audit, some maintenance bureau supervisors also received overtime and comp-time payments for being on call - an arrangement that had apparently continued since before the rules were changed.

To address the problems, the audit recommends that the human resources bureau clarify its rules and that the bureaus discontinue the payments that are not authorized by the rule. The audit also recommends that supervisors seeking such payments submit signed time reports to appropriate managers.

The heads of both agencies reviewed in the audit question whether the new rules are reasonable, however. In response letters to the audit, both David Shaff, water bureau director, and Sue Keil, transportation office director, said the rules were too restrictive.

In a Sept. 27 letter to the auditors' office, Shaff argued that some supervisors may be in charge of numerous crews in the field on any given day and cannot spend all of their time physically watching them.

'We would never expect the supervisor of a crew working overtime to be on site the entire time. To do so would be incredibly inefficient and wasteful of resources,' Shaff wrote.

Keil agreed with Shaff in a Sept. 28 letter to the auditors' office, saying, 'It is inconceivable that a supervisor can remain at one job site and be effective in the management of the other crews.'

Nevertheless, both Shaff and Keil pledged to work with Deckard's bureau to clarify the rule.

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