In stinging statement, Louisville Metro Councilman Brent Ackerson, D-26, called for the Government Accountability and Ethics Committee to begin investigating the city’s overtime compensation to public employees.
Earlier this week, Mayor Greg Fischer ordered a review of the practices and procedures after learning about potential abuses in the system. At least 10 percent of city workers were earning $15,000 or more in overtime annually while a handful of employees doubled their salaries.
Ackerson says the committee should review work necessities, overtime payments and current staffing practices.
“I understand that overtime may be needed now and then, but the numbers that I am seeing reported are shocking and ridiculous. In these tight economic times, we have to do a better job of managing our resources,” he says.
Similar to Councilman Jerry Miller, R-19, who said the mayor’s office knew about problems with overtime well in advance, Ackerson echoed that questions about employee compensation were raised over the summer during budget hearings and that certain departments were asked if there is an adequate work force to curtail overtime.
Ackerson says the council should fully educate itself on the situation and can then begin to consider solutions, adding those who have been at the helm in dealing with this problem have failed.
“This is just bad business in the way this is being handled,” says Ackerson. “If this has been a problem for some time, and contracts haven’t taken this into account, then department heads should roll. The excuses have to stop, and we have to get a handle on these city expenses.”
UPDATE: Government Accountability Chairwoman Tina Ward-Pugh, D-9, says she was surprised by Ackerson’s request and the language he used to describe the situation.
She says council members are concerned about overtimes costs, but the panel shouldn’t conduct its own investigation and will wait on the mayor’s office to finish its review first.
“I have no interest in having a parallel investigation into the overtime. I have been caught off guard by the request because clearly the mayor has put in place this very review,” says Ward-Pugh. “Whether I’m the chair, vice-chair or even a member of this committee or not, in my opinion the committee is already dealing with the issues it should be dealing with.”
But Ackerson says the council should fully educate itself on the situation because the administration has failed to deliver the proper information, adding he won’t carry Fischer’s water in terms of what decision is made to deal with the city’s staggering overtime bill.
“My problem is to represent my constituents to say: ‘Well hold on here, before I cut why don’t we start doing things in other places better.’ Don’t come to me and ask me to cut services or to cut budgets when you’re wasting money elsewhere. That’s a bad business decision and I’m not going to carry that water,” he says.
The mayor hasn’t decided on whether solving the overtime problem is hiring more workers or making service cuts. The administration’s review of overtime is expected to be completed on January 10.
The accountability committee has one meeting left this calender year, but new committee leaders and members selected in January could decide to take up the overtime issue.