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|UPDATED: 'Comp time' policy in limbo|
Johnny Riley said the city of Monroe did not violate policies when it paid three employees for more than $7,000 in overtime for work they performed during the city's DeltaFest event last year.
"No one's said no we shouldn't pay them," said Riley, director of community affairs for the city. "If there are people who felt that way they should have said, 'No, we shouldn't have paid the employees' and just not beat around the bush."
However, a joint investigation conducted by The Ouachita Citizen and KNOE-8 News uncovered multiple documents that appeared to contradict Riley's position.
In a September, 2006 memo, Mike Rhymes, Monroe's Human resources director, told Riley payments to employees who were exempt from receiving overtime compensation would violate city policies.
Also, in 2007, Stacey Haynie, the city's director of accounting, informed Riley that paying Melissa Thaxton, Damon Gordon and Charles Thomas for overtime work could trigger findings when the city conducts its annual audit.
At issue is whether Thaxton, Gordon and Thomas were eligible to receive compensation for more than 120 hours each for overtime performed organizing and planning the music festival in 2007.
According to city officials, the three are classified as "exempt" employees, meaning they are not eligible to receive overtime pay. Instead, for each hour they worked above the standard 40-hours a week, the employees were eligible to one and a half hours off in a practice known as "comp time."
Nevertheless, when the three employees filed a request to take time off -- time they said they had earned -- Riley denied the request. Instead, Riley asked the city to "buy back" the "comp time."
"All 'comp time' requests have been evaluated with each case being denied for time off," Riley stated in a memo to David Barnes, Monroe's director of administration.
Riley said he wanted employees to remain on the job instead of taking "comp time."
Riley told The Ouachita Citizen he approved 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."
At the request of the Monroe City Council, internal auditor Rhonda Bruillette conducted an audit of "comp time" requests and overtime payments in the community affairs division.
Bruillette found employees at community affairs were not using approved, standardized forms for their "comp time" 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 "comp time" records for Thaxton, Gordon and Thomas. 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 human resource director Rhymes to develop a new policy governing "comp time" payouts.
The policy now states employees who 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.
However, that policy has not become effective. According to city spokesman Rod Washington, no timetable has been established for the policy to become effective.