Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Tale of Two Women . . .

Two women worked overtime in public employment.  One was paid for the overtime, but is now being made to give her pay back.  The other was not paid, but now will be paid. 

September 21, 2008 Observer-Dispatch: Sheriff owes explanation on overtime.

A recent state report revealed an exempt employee of the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office made $20,000 in overtime hours during a 22-month period. . . . 

Picente said county officials are trying to determine whether Battelene will have to give the money back. 

The answer to that is pretty simple: Yes, she does. . . .

December 26, 2008 Observer-Dispatch: Government must watch all spending

New Hartford government must strictly monitor overtime paid to its employees and make sure any accrued hours are awarded in a timely fashion.

This was not the case recently when the town decided to shell out $71,544 in unpaid overtime to town bookkeeper Carol Fairbrother for the hours she worked from 2002 to 2007.

. . . This is no reflection on Fairbrother, who worked the hours and rightfully should be compensated . . . 

Why the difference in treatment between these two women?  Neither are professionals. If Ms. Fairbrother "worked the hours and rightfully should be compensated,"  is Ms. Battelene, who presumably worked her hours, not also "rightfully" to be compensated for them? Why is Ms. Battelene less deserving? The differences are not explained, although the label "exempt" seems to come into play. Ms. Battelene was classified as an "exempt" employee and a state audit found her not entitled to overtime.  

Ms. Fairbrother? We do not know her status and, curiously, no one seems to be asking (which seems par for the course with the OD when it comes to New Hartford). The breaking story suggests that she, too, might be exempt because the Town felt it necessary to institute a new policy for non-union employees.  Since a state audit found Ms. Battelene liable to return her pay, would not an inquiry to the State Comptroller's office have been de rigeur regarding Ms. Fairbrother? 

A red flag is raised by the Town's handling of Ms. Fairbrother's situation. Why did Supervisor Reed feel it necessary to go to Hancock and Estabrook for an opinion on whether or not Ms. Fairbrother was entitled to overtime? Aside from the state comptroller, Mr. Reed and Mr. Payne could have asked the town attorney, Mr. Green, for advice. This is not a terribly complicated issue to research, and Mr. Green should know how the Town operates . . . or is THAT the problem? Going to an "outsider" for an "impartial" expert opinion is an old trick some lawyers like to play when the "regularly retained" expert knows too much . . . . By retaining an outsider for an opinion, the "facts" upon which the opinion may be based can be carefully screened to produce the desired opinion.  I am not saying that this is what happened, but the Town's failure to produce an opinion of its own counsel, or ask for a state opinion, reasonably raises the possibility. 

Another red flag is raised by the lack of inquiry of prior town supervisors. Did they ask for the overtime to be put in?  What was their understanding regarding pay for overtime? This information is conspicuously absent.

Another red flag is raised by Ms. Fairbrother's pay rate of $31.32/hr for her regular duties. Of the 3870 people holding the Bookkeeper classification in the Mohawk Valley region per NYSDOL statistics, mean pay is $30,280, median is $29,460 and experienced is $34,420. Ms. Fairbrother's pay work's out to about $57,000! That is over $20K more than an "expernienced" bookeeper. That is also about $2K above what an experienced Executive Secretary in the Mohawk Valley makes. . . . which makes her sound "exempt."

It's funny how the Town "Bookeeper's" story sounds like the Sheriff's Secretary's story . . . but the treatment of the situation by government officials . . . and by the OD . . .  is entirely opposite! There is clearly a lot more to this story than the public is being told.


Anonymous said...

Why would the Town incur an expense to obtain an "advisory" opinion when the NYS Comptroller's Office offers their services in these matters?

Sounds to me like Earle Reed and the Town Attorney knew too much and was window shopping for an excuse to pay Carol Fairbrother?

Lastly, it is being rumored on the streets of New Hartford that (at no time) did Ms. Fairbrother approach Ralph Humphries, former Town Supervisor nor Donald Backman, Town Councilman. Why not?

Something or someone is attempting to pull the wool over the publics' eyes?

Anonymous said...

Brother, if you know where an Executive Secretary can make even close to $50K/year around here, let alone what you imply it is, you're in possession of a valuable secret. I scowered the Mohawk Valley for just such a position a couple of years back; and the best I could find was a little over $30K.