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|'Comp pay' prompts new city policy|
A new policy to curtail overtime compensation at the City of Monroe means some employees may not be paid for time they spend working on special events for the city.
Issues concerning the city's practice of buying back earned time off arose late last year when three employees at the city's community affairs department requested more than $7,000 for hours they claimed they worked during the planning and execution of DeltaFest.
According to documents obtained by The Ouachita Citizen and KNOE-8 News, Melissa Thaxton, Damon Gordon and Charles Thomas were each paid for 120 hours of "comp time."
Because the three employees are salaried workers, they are not eligible to receive overtime pay. According to city policies, the employees instead receive 1.5 hours off with pay for each hour they work overtime, or "comp time."
City officials opted to pay Thaxton, Gordon and Thomas instead of awarding "comp time," citing the need for the employees to continue performing their jobs.
Johnny Riley, director of community affairs, told The Ouachita Citizen he approved for the employees to work overtime. He also "had knowledge" of when employees were working after hours.
"I approved the Deltafest overtime and comp time hours on a general statement saying we need to do what we have to do to make this event a success this year," said Riley. "It was a new festival, and we knew there were going to be some opportunities and some times where they were going to have to work after hours."
In three separate memos on Sept. 11, 2007, Riley asked the city administrator, David Barnes, to approve reimbursing the three employees for 120 hours each of compensatory leave since their request to take time off from work had been denied.
"All comp time requests have been evaluated with each case being denied for time off," Riley stated in the memo to Barnes.
In separate e-mails, Riley said he denied the requests to take time off from work as earned because the employees were busy with other city events.
The request for the payments triggered concerns in several city departments, including human resources and accounting.
Internal Auditor Rhonda Bruillette informed Riley the payments might not be in accord with existing city policy. Issuing the payments could trigger findings in the state's annual audit of city finances, Bruillette said in a September memo to Riley.
Around the same time, the Monroe City Council requested an internal audit of the compensatory time logs related to DeltaFest and other community affairs employees.
Bruillette found employees in the community affairs division were not using approved, standardized forms for their requests. Also, some compensatory time requests had not been authorized by appropriate supervisors.
Bruillette's audit also questioned documentation provided for compensatory time requests.
In responding to the audit, Riley revealed he had no records on individual comp time for the three employees. Instead, Riley said he made a single entry on Sept. 5, 2007.
"On Sept. 5, 2007, Employee #1 told me to enter 200 hours for him and (for) Employee #3 for DeltaFest comp time," Riley wrote to Bruillette. "I told him I did no think the computer would let me enter that many hours for one day, but it did allow the entry."
Riley said he instructed all community affairs employees with ties to DeltaFest to keep track of their time and submit it after the festival, at which time he would work with city officials to determine if those hours could be paid.
When asked how he knew the logs presented by the three employees were accurate, Riley said he was generally aware of when they were working and that the individuals in question were "good employees."
"I'm not a micromanager so I didn't check every single day, but I did know they were here during those particular times," Riley said.
Riley understood the concerns of his colleagues and said he asked Mike Rhimes, human resources director, to develop a new policy governing comp time payouts.
The policy now states employees who do volunteer work that falls outside their normal job duties will not be paid overtime and that any compensatory time awarded for such work will not be eligible for the type of cash payment received by Thaxton, Gordon and Thomas.
That means some employees who want to work overtime on festivals and projects such as DeltaFest will have to be prepared to either take time off from work later or not be paid for their efforts, Riley said.