Smithfield Herald

Smithfield might end comp time

In an effort to prevent salary abuses from happening again, the Smithfield Town Council might soon end comp time for some employees.

At their February meeting, councilmen debated whether managers should be able to use comp time when they work more than 40 hours in a week. Last week, a subcommittee of the council met and drafted a policy change the full council will consider at its March meeting.

The proposal would end comp time for managers except under “extraordinary circumstances” such as a snow storm or natural disaster. For instance, during the February snow storm, public works director Lenny Branch worked far more than 40 hours. The proposal would let him take off some hours or days the next week, with the town manager’s approval.

The new comp time, called flex time, would not always be hour for hour. Instead it would be at the employee’s discretion, especially to avoid burnout.

“We have had payroll issues in the past here,” Mayor John Lampe said at the last council meeting. “The easiest way to eliminate issues is to clarify things.”

In Smithfield, an employee earns comp time, or compensatory time, when he or she works more than 40 hours in a week. The employee then takes the hours off another day. For instance, if a town employee spends three hours at a Town Council meeting on a Tuesday, he or she might not come in until 11 a.m. on Wednesday.

During Smithfield’s pay scandal, some employees saved up comp time and cashed it out for thousands of dollars. After the scandal, the Town Council ended the banking of comp time, but a question lingered: Should managers, who are exempt from overtime laws, earn comp time? In answer to that question, some council members have said the town pays its managers by the job, not by the hour.

Smithfield has about 20 employees who are exempt from overtime laws. They currently earn comp time when they work more than 40 hours in a week.

Town Council members say Smithfield’s exempt employees keep track of their hours differently. Some carefully make sure they stay at no more than 40 hours, adding and subtracting hours on a piece of paper in their pocket. Others go over 40 hours in a week without taking time off.

The subcommittee was made up of Charles Williams and Emery Ashley, who have been researching the topic for months. The mayor, Councilman Travis Scott and Town Manager Paul Sabiston also attended last week’s meeting.

Ashley drafted the proposed changes, with a focus on trusting the town’s managers to count their hours honestly.

The alternative, he said, would amount to micromanaging timecards. “If we’re going to really count minutes in professional jobs, then we need to get into counting the quality of those minutes, which we don’t need to do,” he said.

Scott wondered whether employees in the past had fudged their comp-time hours to avoid doing a full week’s work. Sabiston said he had found no evidence of that. If anything, he said, department heads work more than 40 hours a week.

The five left in agreement over the proposal, which will be on the council’s consent agenda in March.