Raleigh won’t release comp time data for city employees

Posted by Colin Campbell on February 10, 2014 

— Just weeks after records of comp time at the Raleigh Housing Authority prompted the agency’s board to curb the practice, city attorneys are refusing to release the same information for top employees in Raleigh City Hall.

Following a public records request from The News & Observer, the housing authority released time sheets and other data showing that agency director Steve Beam was using up to 20 comp days a year, much of it accrued by logging additional hours during a typical workweek. The disclosures prompted a new contract for Beam that won’t allow him to earn time off when he works more than 7.5 hours in a day.

But Raleigh officials say they won’t release information showing how much time off city employees are taking, saying the records aren’t public under state law. The housing authority is a public agency whose board members are appointed by the Raleigh mayor.

“We could find no exception to (state personnel law) that would allow a municipal employer to release records showing when an individual employee uses his or her leave,” city spokesman Mike Williams said in an email.

Instead, city officials provided records showing how much vacation, sick and comp time specific employees have accumulated, but not whether they have used or been repaid for any of it.

Much like those at the housing authority, salaried managers in Raleigh City Hall are eligible to earn comp time when they work beyond 40 hours in a week. The city policy does, however, prevent employees from banking more than 70 comp hours at a time. But it doesn’t limit the total amount of comp time employees can take.

The comp days would come in addition to traditional vacation days; Raleigh employees could earn up to 18 vacation days each year depending on how long they’ve worked for the city.

Mike Tadych, an attorney specializing in public records laws, says that while state law doesn’t specifically address comp time, there’s no legal distinction between how much an employee earns and how much they use.

“I disagree with that restrictive interpretation,” he said.

In North Carolina, government employees’ current and past salaries are public, with salary defined broadly to include “pay, benefits, incentives, bonuses and all other forms of compensation.”

“Comp time is compensation,” Tadych said. “Whether it’s accrued and used or accrued and unused, it’s still comp time.”

In denying the paper’s request for comp time data, city attorneys cited two legal opinions. The first, from the N.C. Attorney General’s office, explains that accrued leave balances are considered public record, but the opinion doesn’t address whether agencies must release how much leave an employee used.

The second opinion cited was written by a UNC School of Government professor, Frayda Bluestein. She says comp time used is “probably not” public because it wouldn’t be part of someone’s “current salary.”

But both the professor and the attorney general’s opinions were written before state personnel laws charged in October 2010. That’s when the General Assembly made historical salary data a public record, including all changes in compensation during an employees’ tenure with a government agency.

The city’s human resources director, Stephen Jones, said the city won’t release information that’s not spelled out in state personnel laws.

“That statute makes it a misdemeanor for a city to release personnel records that are not specifically authorized for release,” he said in an email. “I want to make certain that we comply with that statute.”

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