Bribery, favoritism, retaliation cited in Atlanta’s oversized pay for overtime hours
By David Pendered
A manager at Atlanta’s airport awarded overtime hours to her husband, son and nephew rather than giving other employees a chance to earn the extra pay, a situation that is just part of the abuse of overtime pay identified in the city’s internal audit of overtime pay.
Bribery is alleged as a contributing factor for the more than doubling of overtime paid to city workers by Atlanta between 2013 and 2018, according to Performance Audit: Citywide Overtime, which was released in February. The report covers fiscal years, which begin July 1.
The report observes:
“From April 2015 to September 2017, the city’s integrity hotline received 16 complaints related to overtime from seven departments.
- “The complaints involve overtime theft and abuse by city employees; several complaints involve bribery and management abusing its power in assigning overtime hours.”
- [Of note, the city reports having a total of 13 departments].
The case of abuse at Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport is easy to overlook in the recent audit, appearing as it does on page 29. Here it is:
- “We substantiated an allegation in aviation during 2018 in which an employee was unfairly allocating overtime to family members over other employees.
- “City code Section 114-133 states that employees who normally perform the same type of work shall receive equal opportunity for overtime work.”
The situation reverberated when cited by Amanda Nobel, the city’s independent auditor, in her Feb. 27 presentation of the audit to the Atlanta City Council’s Finance Executive Committee. According to Nobel:
- “We periodically receive complaints about favoritism and retaliation using access to overtime.
- “We did substantiate an allegation in the Department of Aviation last year where a facilities maintenance office manager, who was responsible for allocating overtime for projects, favored her son and nephew, both of whom were facilities maintenance mechanics, and her husband, who was a senior maintenance mechanic, over others who had signed up.”
There’s no indication the office manager faced any sanctions for benefitting her husband, son and nephew at the expense of others. The city’s policies on overtime have been resistant to change for years, as previous audits have revealed.
This performance audit hit the issue directly in entire subsections:
“Departments Lack Processes to Ensure Equal Opportunity for Overtime
- “Overtime was unevenly distributed. The city has received multiple employee complaints of unfair overtime practices since 2015, alleging favoritism when allocating it or using access to overtime as a form of retaliation.
“Over 500 city employees earned more than $20,000 each in overtime pay during 2016 and almost 70 employees earned more than 2,040 hours of overtime pay in both 2016 and 2017.
- “We recommend that departments develop documented and transparent processes for equitable overtime management.”
Of note, the police department typically is highlighted for blowing through its payroll budget to cover overtime pay.
Typically in these sorts of audits, as is the case in this audit, the police department is flagged for flagrant overtime pay and leaders vow to make improvements. The reports often note a number of big events that call for extra officers to be on the street.
In this particular audit, events that were cited include the annual Peach Drop on New Year’s Eve, the College Football National Championship, a presidential visit and the March for Social Justice and Women.
That said, the report observes:
Overall Overtime Trend is Inconsistent with Special Events and Position Vacancies
- “With the exception of January 2018, the citywide trend in monthly overtime spending from January 2015 to August 2018 does not support the explanation from city officials that overtime was driven by special events. City officials have stated that specific events, such as protests, sporting events, and visits from presidential candidates, caused an increase in overtime; however, only in January 2018 does this explanation appear to be supported.
- “Some department managers have also attributed overtime increases to position vacancies; we found little correlation between position vacancies and overtime, except in the fire department. Police and corrections experienced high overtime without decreased staff, indicating that other factors may have influenced the increased overtime.”