Monday, November 19, 2012

Civil Service Commission: City personnel office says OIG leave policy violates law [Updated]

Posted By on Mon, Nov 19, 2012 at 12:34 PM

Update (11/19/12)

Robert Hagmann, personnel administrator for the Department of Civil Service, presented the department's initial report on the Office of Inspector General's (OIG) payroll issue during today's Civil Service Commission meeting, the major points of which are covered below.

Hagmann also read from a letter from Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux responding to the inquiry. The Civil Service Department had last month requested records about the "exempt time" policy — which were provided — as well as a plan to correct past payroll errors, which was refused.

"I do not believe the Office of Inspector General's policy is a violation of the rules," the letter said, adding that the office will not submit such a plan "as we do not believe there are past payroll errors to correct."

Suzanne Wisdom, OIG general counsel, attended today's meeting but did not offer a response before the board.

Hagmann and personnel director Lisa Hudson said the matter was still under review.

Original story from last week:

An Office of Inspector General (OIG) policy allowing certain employees to take time off to make up for extra hours worked may violate city law, according to the Department of Civil Service. What's more, Civil Service believes the OIG, the city's chief waste and fraud investigator, has been improperly recording hours on its payroll sheets for four years, a letter from Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux shows.

This is a bit complicated, by the way, but this is the gist.

Since 2008, before Quatrevaux took over the office, OIG has had a policy called "exempt time." Quatrevaux's salaried employees are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act overtime requirements. Yet many — particularly in the Independent Police Monitor's Office — work far more than a full-time work week (35 hours, in this case). So OIG created an internal policy to grant them leave for those hours worked.

“The police monitor’s the best example,” Quatrevaux said. That office is not staffed for 24 hour operations, but its employees often work overnight, for example, following on-scene investigations of officer-involved shootings. "Should they have to come in the next day?"

The problem is, the hours have been off the books. The city charter requires that all pay plans for classified employees (working within the bounds of the Civil Service rules) be approved by the Commission. City Council must approve all unclassified pay plans. OIG exempt time hasn't gone through either.

There is no such thing, as far as city law is concerned, as exempt time. Which means there's no way to mark it on time sheets for payroll records. So, for four years, the OIG has simply been marking these hours off as "hours worked."

According to OIG general counsel Suzanne Wisdom, there is a distinction between a "pay plan," which would require City Council approval, and a "leave plan." These are two separate sections in the Civil Service rules, Wisdom noted.

“We considered it to be a leave plan, and not a pay plan,” Wisdom said.

(More after the jump)

Furthermore, the city code of ordinances allows the OIG to set its own personnel policies. Of course that might be outweighed, again, by city charter which requires Council approval of pay plans. (Charter vs. ordinance is analogous to the U.S. Constitution vs. U.S. Code, where code must follow the Constitution.) But, Wisdom said, the OIG has brought the issue to the attention of the City Attorney and the Chief Administrative Office, who believe that the OIG has the power to set the policy.

“They were aware that it was going on," Wisdom said. "It’s been suggested that it’s not a leave policy, it’s a pay plan. And if it’s a pay plan, I agree that we didn’t have the ability to do it.”

An accident brought this to the city's attention, according to an October letter from Quatrevaux to the City Attorney's Office and the Chief Administrative Office.

Last spring, an OIG employee's off-hours were marked as "leave" on her time sheet. The employee, who Quatrevaux declined to identify, had no leave time available.

"Because she did not have sufficient annual leave remaining in her account, her hours were changed by payroll to 'leave without pay,'" the letter reads. "The employee, however, had accrued sufficient 'exempt time' leave to cover her absence."

So the OIG asked the city Finance Department to change "leave" to "hours worked," when she was, in fact, absent from work during those hours.

"The hours were in fact previously worked by the employee, and were tracked by the OIG internally," the letter says.

“We try to set the example here. This is at best a disagreement with the Civil Service Department that’s much ado about nothing," Quatrevaux said.

Quatrevaux has suspended exempt time until a resolution can be reached.

Read Quatrevaux's letter: OIG_Letter.pdf

The department of Civil Service will present a report on its findings in this case to the Civil Service Commission on Monday, according to the meeting agenda. Incidentally, not on the agenda once again is the city's Civil Service/HR Transformation plan. Police Association of New Orleans attorney Eric Hessler, however, is scheduled to speak on the plan.

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