Attorneys for the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and the Police Association of New Orleans (PANO) today asked the Civil Service Commission to stop approving provisional promotions — made at management's discretion without normally required testing and training — in the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD).
Superintendent Ronal Serpas and the Landrieu Administration did not recommend $147,000 the Civil Service Department requested for sergeant exams in this year's budget. That budget item has gone unfunded for the last several years. During budget talks in November, personnel administrator Lisa Hudson told City Council that the department has not performed promotional exams for sergeants since 2007. As a result, sergeant and captain registers have expired and the NOPD has made at-will appointments, FOP attorney Donovan Livaccari said today.
"And the register for lieutenants is on life support," he said, as a result of requests from the department to eliminate it.
Livaccari said the lack of funding for tests and the elimination of promotions lists constitute and "end-around" the city's civil service rules.
New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux has weighed in on a proposed change to the city's emergency overtime policy, urging the New Orleans Civil Service Commission to adopt a policy that has recently earned his own office some criticism.
This week, the city's Civil Service Department proposed an elimination of emergency overtime pay for employees who make more than $100,000. The rule change was prompted by news reports showing that some of the city's highest paid employees took home hundreds of thousands in additional pay for hours worked during the Hurricane Isaac emergency declaration.
In a letter addressed to commission chairman the Rev. Kevin Wildes, Quatrevaux today suggested that the commission instead adopt a "comp time" policy, awarding time off for extra hours.
"I am writing to suggest that the Commission consider a rule change to institute a leave policy of awarding compensatory time, which would be applicable both in emergency situations and in situations where employees are required to work outside of their normal duty hours in addition to their regular day time duties," the letter reads.
Quatrevaux's office recently suspended its own comp time policy after the Civil Service Department said it violated city law. The department discovered the OIG policy, which was four years old, only after the office had the city Finance Department change an employee's payroll record to show she was working when, in fact, she was off. The off-time was granted to the employee, Deputy Police Monitor Simone Levine, to make up for hours she worked beyond her 35-hour week. Levine — like many other salaried employees — is not eligible for overtime pay.
Quatrevaux, who notes that city code allows him to set his own pay policy, has disputed the department's initial findings. (The department has disputed that it counts as a pay policy and has further argued that city charter would require City Council approval to institute such a policy, which OIG has not received.) He has nevertheless suspended the policy while an inquiry is pending.
Read Quatrevaux's letter: PL_-_CSC_rule_change_121220.pdf
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)
Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration says improvements are needed — some are already underway — at the Sewerage & Water Board, but there’s no reason to suspect malfeasance among current S&WB leadership.
Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux sent a letter to Landrieu July 31, recommending the S&WB not be trusted with administering money from proposed rate hikes. In his letter to Landrieu, Quatrevaux said the S&WB is
"the most likely of the City’s component entities to engage in fraud, waste, and abuse according to standard risk assessment technology."
The intent of the IG's letter is to develop legislation requiring intense scrutiny of the board’s money management — by the OIG or another entity — and/or to move the operation into City Hall where it would fall under the city’s procurement policies.
Quatrevaux pointed to problems in the S&WB pension plan that could make it unsustainable, waste and possible fraud in employee insurance programs and abuse of the take-home car program (one of every seven S&WB employees has a take-home car), and the conviction of former S&WB director Benjamin Edwards on charges he took kickbacks from S&WB contractors during the 20 years he headed the department.
In a statement emailed to Gambit, Landrieu spokesman Ryan Berni says the mayor “will take a hard look at the Inspector General’s recommendations” but defended the current S&WB leadership.
The administration has been working with the S&WB to improve the deficient areas and improve overall operations, Berni says, and will continue to do so. However, the statement said,
"any suggestion of impropriety by the current executive director would be baseless. Marcia St. Martin has played by the rules and has been a dedicated public servant for over 40 years."
“ We have made significant progress in improving the operations and funding of the Sewerage and Water Board in our more than 2 years in office, but we must do more. It is clear to us that the S&WB currently does not have what it needs in terms of infrastructure and funding to serve a 21st century American city. It is the Mayor’s hope that with key reforms and improvements identified and outstanding questions answered within the next 60 days, we can find consensus on a pathway forward."
The S&WB has scheduled public meetings to disseminate information and receive input from ratepayers about increases of 14 percent for water service and 15 percent for sewerage every July through 2016. The board says the hikes are necessary because revenues have been lower than needed to operate, repair and update water, sewerage and drainage systems since the 1980s in most areas of the city. The mayor sent a letter to the board on July 17 asking it to find ways to lower the rate increases. He requested a reply within 60 days.
The fact that the S&WB needs a heavy influx of funds to repair and revamp the city’s antiquated system is not in dispute by Quatrevaux or the mayor’s office. “It is clear to us that the S&WB currently does not have what it needs in terms of infrastructure and funding to serve a 21st century American city,” Berni says. “It is the Mayor’s hope that with key reforms and improvements identified and outstanding questions answered within the next 60 days, we can find consensus on a pathway forward.”
New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux told Mayor Mitch Landrieu today that the Sewerage & Water Board (S&WB) shouldn’t be allowed to manage any more money — unless it does so under intense scrutiny — because it is “the most likely of the City’s component entities to engage in fraud, waste, and abuse according to standard risk assessment technology.”
In a letter to the mayor dated today (Tuesday, July 31), the inspector general proferred comments about the S&WB so solutions to potential problems he pointed out could be addressed in the legislation necessary to enact S&WB rate hikes.
Quatrevaux pointed out problems that could make the S&WB pension plan unsustainable, waste and possible fraud in employee insurance programs and publicly funded take-home cars (one of every seven S&WB employees has a take-home car). Quatrevaux also mentioned problems in contract management and a questionable procurement process.
Landrieu was not immediately available for comment.
See the whole letter below the jump.
A city of New Orleans purchasing evaluation committee today scored Unum the most qualified of nine bidders to take over as contractor for city employee life, dismemberment and accidental death insurance. The current contractor — The Hartford — was ranked sixth.
(The evaluation scores are based on a number of factors including whether a prospective contractor has offices in Orleans Parish — which Unum didn't score well on. Its local office is in Metairie — its willingness to meet city contract diversity goals by using certified Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) subcontractors, as well as quoted price and experience with other public employers.)
The committee was unable to vote to recommend Unum today after several members — including city Health Commissioner Dr. Karen DeSalvo and Deputy Mayor of Operations Michelle Thomas — had to leave early. Director of Finance Norman Foster said a meeting for the vote will likely take place in the next few days.
(Continued after the jump)
It's been four months since the city's Office of Inspector General (OIG) first requested a controversial change to the city's civil service rules that would allow OIG immediate access to city employee personnel records now considered confidential. And today, for the fourth straight monthly Civil Service Commission meeting, the change has yet to see a vote. From our last story:
The confidential records in question include job counseling and evaluation reports and reports of internal investigations "on the character, personality and history of employees" covered by civil service. According to an October letter from [OIG acting general counsel Suzanne Lacey Wisdom] requesting the change, the OIG is mandated by city ordinance to investigate employee conduct, which, Wisdom argues, necessitates access to the records.
The CSC also voted to defer, at least until next month, a new proposal to change the way meetings are conducted. Specifics on the nature of the proposed change(s) are not yet available. City Personnel Director Lisa Hudson today said she hopes to publish a draft before the February meeting but added that it may not be available on time. However, the change(s), even if introduced in February, would not go up for a vote until March to allow time for public comment, CSC Chair Kevin Wildes and Commissioner Dana Douglas said.
What ended up happening in Duncan Plaza at 12:05 a.m. today turned out to be theater, and really it was bad theater. We in the media didn’t get the brutal mass arrests we wanted. We only got two people in handcuffs: Mike Raso and David Dantonio, one of whom — Raso — wasn’t even put into a police car.
Raso, wisely and at the urging of fellow occupier Nadra Enzi, aka Capt. Black, founder of the group Good Citizens for Good Cops, accepted New Orleans Police Commander J.D. Thomas’ offer to go home with a court summons rather than go to Orleans Parish Prison. Raso should be grateful to Enzi today.
(Dantonio, on the other hand, doesn't have a local address and was therefore ineligible for the same deal. He was driven off in a police car but never booked. Officers ultimately took him to a hospital for treatment of a pre-existing hand injury.)
Raso’s decision was despite day-long proclamations — which he gave, along with his full life story, to every media outlet in town — that he was willing and able to brave OPP. “I’m a constitutional criminal!” Raso yelled sitting in a chair atop a hill (really) and waving his arms in the air (again, really) as 10:30, park closing time, rolled around. To be fair to Raso, a lot of this self-aggrandizement can probably be put down to nerves. So can the chair. He was trembling at times. He really didn’t want to go to jail.
(More, including videos of last night's police action, after the jump)
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