- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2003

D.C. Council members vowed to crack down on overtime that last year boosted the pay of 344 city government workers over $100,000, including more than 200 police officers and firefighters who doubled or tripled their base pay rates.

In a memo to her colleagues yesterday, council member Kathy Patterson, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, called for investigation into “overtime abuse” at the Metropolitan Police Department.

Mrs. Patterson’s memo and other council members’ demands for stricter accounting of overtime came in response to a report Monday in The Washington Times that said 813 D.C. government workers made more than $100,000 last year, and that police officials who earned large amounts of overtime were among the highest-paid employees.

“A persistent problem has been the abuse of overtime by a small number of sworn members of the department,” Mrs. Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, wrote in the memo. She suggested the council include better management of overtime spending as a performance measure in future salary and benefits negotiations with Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey.

Last week, the council gave Chief Ramsey a $25,000 raise, which increased his annual salary to $175,000. But the council did not extend his five-year contract with the District and postponed a decision on his benefits package, which included a $60,000-a-year pension.

Council members have sought to tie the chief’s benefits to his department’s performance, citing low presence of police officers in neighborhoods and an increase in the number of homicides. Department overtime now appears to be a performance issue.

The police department’s $377 million budget for fiscal year 2004 sets aside about $19 million for overtime pay.

Last year’s audit by D.C. Inspector General Charles Maddox found that police officials could not provide documentation of work performed for overtime pay claimed in 10 homicide cases he reviewed. Such questionable payments appear to continue, Mrs. Patterson said.

In the memo, Mrs. Patterson said Monday’s report in The Times was responsible for reviving the overtime debate.

Among the city’s 813 employees making more than $100,000 last year, 469 had six-figure annual salaries, but the remaining 344 made the list by either racking up overtime or collecting years of back wages after being fired unlawfully by the city.

The Times first reported in April that 575 employees in the D.C. government were making six-figure salaries for this year, but that figure did not include those making more than $100,000 with overtime or settlements.

The District, with 572,000 residents, has more city employees making $100,000-plus salaries than Chicago, a city with nearly 3 million residents, or Baltimore, a city with 651,000 residents.

Of the District’s 34,000 municipal workers, 575 have six-figure annual salaries this year. In comparison, 419 of Chicago’s 40,000 city workers and 33 of Baltimore’s 15,000 city workers make that much.

However, the employment figures do not include an estimated 46,000 public school employees in Chicago and 13,000 public school employees in Baltimore. Those cities have given their state governments control of the school systems.

Last year, 18 D.C. public school employees made more than $100,000 a year.

A third of the D.C. municipal employees who earned more than $100,000 last year, despite having lower base salaries, worked for the police and fire departments and emergency medical services. Most of the extra earnings in those cases came from overtime.

“The bottom line is that they have to be compensated for overtime hours worked,” said police department spokesman Sgt. Joe Gentile.

Police officers can earn higher pay rates by working extra hours, night shifts or holidays, and by testifying in court when they are off duty.

“Under federal law, called the Fair Labor Standards Act, an officer must be compensated for overtime,” Sgt. Gentile said. “They may be held over for duty; they may be called back for duty; or they may have to work details in which they are allowed to be compensated and must be compensated by law.”

Council member Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, said police overtime is a “huge problem” for the city because the drain on revenue does little to improve public safety. He said the overtime has nothing to do with policing neighborhoods.

“It’s the worst of both worlds,” Mr. Fenty said. “The chief is not going to be able to come into the budget process and say he didn’t know that these points were of extreme” concern.

Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said overtime abuse was a problem in many D.C. agencies, not just the police department.

“In some of these agencies, I’m sure there are employees gaming the system to maximize their overtime,” he said.

Mr. Mendelson said the council may move to reduce the amount of overtime budgeted for the police department and other agencies where excessive overtime is a problem. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi has been given the authority to ration funds to agencies month by month, which may be another way to control spending on overtime, he said.

“I wouldn’t necessarily blame the employee,” Mr. Mendelson said. “If the police officer has to be in court, he should be paid. But there is no question in my mind that there are a few agencies out there not managing their payroll well.”

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