Salaried housing inspection employee made $25K in overtime

An increased emphasis on code enforcement and demolition of blighted properties has led to a six-fold increase in overtime pay in the city of Dayton’s housing inspection office, from $44,924 in 2009 to $295,789 last year, a Dayton Daily News investigation found.

The cost has been exacerbated by the practice of giving supervisors overtime — top earner Nathan Zebrowski, a manager, pulled in $25,964 in overtime last year — and paying employees for overtime for weekend hours even if they took vacation or sick leave the same week.

Some issues with the way overtime is paid has led the city’s auditing firm to conduct an internal review after a complaint by a former employee. A report is expected within weeks.

Barbara Jasper, who retired this year after 25 years working for the city, said her major complaint was Zebrowski getting overtime pay even though he is salaried and paid extra as an acting division director.

“There’s no way that should be allowed,” she said.

City officials point out that the department’s payroll has been reduced in recent years due to cutbacks including leaving the department director position unfilled for years. The division’s total payroll has decreased from $2.4 million in 2009 to $2 million in 2012 as the number of employees has dropped from 42 to 31.

The number of notices issued by inspectors, meanwhile, has more than doubled since 2008 to a total 12,877 last year.

Acting Housing Inspection Director Kevin Powell said his budget was cut 20 percent in 2012, the same year the city received $5.2 million from the state for housing demolition as city council decided to step up responses to resident complaints about code violations.

“The pressure was mounting to get demolitions done,” he said.

Herb Spencer, who got a warning for tall grass at his Shenandoah Drive home on Memorial Day weekend, said the city should cut back enforcement.

“As hard as people are trying to get jobs, they’re working overtime giving you tickets trying to get your grass cut,” said Spencer, 60, who has a neighbor kid mow his lawn because he’s disabled. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Powell said his office has hired five new inspectors, but increased demands will lead to increased costs.

“(If) you want these complaints handled, you want us to certify these properties for demolition, we’re not going to get that done in a 40-hour workweek,” Powell said. “If I’m going to bring in eight inspectors to do a job on Saturday or Sunday, I want to make sure somebody’s there supervising them.”

Zebrowski, who is second in command under Powell, made $93,152 last year. That figure included overtime, base pay, longevity pay and $3,190 for taking on some division director responsibilities.

Pay for inspectors, with overtime, ranged last year from $44,815 to $79,702.

OT with days off

While most city managerial employees don’t get overtime — they instead flex their schedules as needed — city officials said housing inspection supervisors have had verbal approval to work overtime for years.

“It’s not every manager (getting overtime), but it’s also not just in housing inspection,” said city spokesman Tom Biedenharn.

He said managers in the departments of police, fire, public works, water and aviation also get overtime.

City personnel records say housing inspection mid-managers are exempt employees, meaning they are not eligible for overtime pay according to the city’s personnel policy. Overtime can be approved with written notice only if a supervisor can’t flex his or her time, the policy says.

City officials could not provide written approval for managers in housing inspection getting overtime — as the city’s personnel manual calls for — but did provide a September 2012 email from Powell to the assistant city manager and others reminding them of the practice.

“The expectation I have for my mid-manager supervisors is well above I believe the norm in the city of Dayton,” the email says. “I have to have supervisors to monitor and do research for conservation specialists in the field during OT assignments.”

Conservation specialists issue warnings and citations for city code enforcement, which includes aggressive sweeps in the spring to get people to start mowing their lawns. They also inspect homes before and after contracted demolition.

Their work rules are set by the city’s contract with the Dayton Public Service Union, which requires overtime wages of time-and-a-half for any hours worked outside an employee’s normal schedule, such as on weekends or after 8 hours of work regardless of how many hours were worked the rest of the week.

A Daily News review of city payroll records show employees regularly picking up overtime shifts on weeks where they took sick days or were out on leave.

Payroll records show this practice allowed one conservation specialist to be paid for 49 hours of work one week in February — including 9 hours of overtime pay — in a week that he worked 35 hours before sick leave and vacation time was added in. Another was paid for 46 hours — including 6 hours of OT — despite taking three full paid days off work one week in March.

“I think that’s ridiculous,” said Spencer, who has owned a home in Residence Park since 2000. “I’ve never worked for a company where if you didn’t work your straight 40 hours, you got overtime.”

The contract was signed Nov. 1, 2011 and runs through Oct. 31, 2014.

Mistakes were made

Until recently, managers also had the same ability to ask for overtime even if they took leave and didn’t work 40 hours, but a mistake triggered an internal audit that put a stop to the practice.

That mistake was a double-overtime payment to Zebrowski in February 2012. Zebrowski pointed out the mistake, but when it was corrected in March the person fixing it accidentally added another payment instead of subtracting it.

That mistake was caught and was fixed in December, according to city payroll records, but it triggered an internal audit that city officials said found managers were inappropriately getting overtime in weeks when they hadn’t worked 40 hours.

“I said to her (the payroll auditor), ‘If there’s a problem tell me exactly what we’re supposed to be doing because we need to start doing it right now,’ ” said Powell, who has not claimed any overtime since moving to housing inspection from the police department in 2011.

City officials did not determine how far back the practice occurred or how many hours of overtime were inappropriately paid, but Powell estimated it at less than $1,000.

Powell also said he requested an audit after seeing the complaints from the former employee.

“I want (them) to look at every one of these things point by point and tell me if we’re doing something wrong,” Powell said.

He can’t guarantee overtime will decrease, even with the new employees.

“We’ll see what happens with the feds and the state. They’re talking about bringing even more money for demolition on,” Powell said. “If they don’t give me more people and say just work more overtime, then I’m working more overtime.”

City commissioner Nan Whaley said code enforcement is one of the city’s top priorities and the commission gets monthly updates on the progress of demolishing blighted properties with state and federal money — cash that comes with tight deadlines that can force overtime.

“We kind of feel that we need to be as aggressive as possible on that,” she said. “What’s really kind of amazing is we’re getting this work done with so much less people. I think that says a lot about the staff and their willingness to get the job done.”

AJ Wagner, who is running for city mayor this year against Whaley, said code enforcement is vital to the city. But he said the city should have hired more people long ago instead of relying increasingly on overtime — especially expensive overtime pay for the division’s top managers.

“Implicit in those numbers is an admission they cut the staff too much,” he said.

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