Durham overtime audit results about ‘average,’ councilman says

Cars drive down Mangum Street past Durham City Hall in January 2019.
Cars drive down Mangum Street past Durham City Hall in January 2019. dvaughan@newsobserver.com

Corrected May 24, 2019. See details below story.

Audit results from an overtime pay study of Durham city employees generated little response from City Council members Thursday.

Durham paid city employees about $3.9 million in overtime in 2018, according to the audit.

Councilman Charlie Reece said the results were not out of line.

“The numbers are basically an average of what we’ve seen in the past,” Reece said.

Councilwoman DeDreana Freeman questioned whether overtime was being fairly offered to employees.

The audit found 67 employees were paid more $10,000 in overtime pay, including five that made at least $30,000 in overtime. The Police Department had 28 employees on the list.

City Manager Tom Bonfield explained the Police Department’s overtime system to the Council, The system allows officers to sign up about a month in advance to cover future shifts determined to be overtime. Bonfield said a budget proposal to hire 18 new officers should help hold down some future overtime costs in the department.

“The shifts have to be covered,” he said. “Whether it is a by a new officer or one who is being paid overtime, they have to be covered.”

Freeman asked what happens in an emergency like the April 10 gas explosion downtown. That disaster destroyed the Kaffeinate coffee shop and several other businesses on Duke Street, killing two people.

“That was an all-hands-on-deck situation,” he said. “When you have situations that are true emergencies, they are not what drives overtime.”

The council also learned more about a Fire Department supervisor who led all city employees in overtime.

“There are some specific reasons for that employee doing lots of overtime over the last year,” Reece said.

The employee was doing the work of two people, Reece aid. Another employee under the supervisor was out on long-term medical leave and the work had to be done, he said.

“The supervisor was doing all the work because that’s what had to happen,” Reece said.

The supervisor claimed 1,435 overtime hours, which auditors said were justified. It resulted in combined salary and overtime pay in 2018 of $121,719 for the supervisor.

The Fire Department is seeking another employee and will begin cross-training firefighters to do some of the work in the future, Assistant Fire Chief Chris Iannuzzi said in response to the audit.

Auditors found that 1,260 employees received some overtime pay in 2018.

City auditor Germaine Brewington said the audit did not compare Durham with other cities and how they handle overtime.

This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Durham City Councilman Charlie Reece’s last name.

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Joe Johnson is a reporter covering breaking stories for The News & Observer. He most recently covered towns in western Wake County and Chatham County. Before that, he covered high school sports for The Herald-Sun.