Workers upset at payroll errors
By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 19, 2012 1:46 PM
A spokesperson for more than 20 emergency medical services employees Tuesday morning assured Wayne County commissioners they were not in revolt or pointing fingers, but were "angry and frustrated" about continued problems with the county's new payroll system, which has left some of them overpaid and others underpaid in the two months it has been in place.
Several employees, who did not identify themselves, said they enjoyed working in Wayne County because of the quality of the program, the people they work with and the administration.
But while the employees took a measured approach, their comments fueled some terse moments between Commissioner Steve Keen and Chairman John Bell, who twice banged the gavel to cut off Keen's comments.
Speaking for her co-workers, Donna Santifort told commissioners at their Tuesday morning session some employees had followed the chain of command to report paycheck errors, while others contacted the human resources department.
"Some of us reported these errors repeatedly," she said.
The overpayment was explained as an additional two weeks of overtime from June necessary to bring the new system up to date, she said.
"At this time, there are letters being mailed out that inform us of the exact amount we must pay back to the county due to the same errors we had reported two months earlier," she said.
Ms. Santifort said that 60 full-time EMS employees were overpaid and two underpaid. Also overpaid were 11 Wayne NET employees. Two were underpaid.
"We understand that our salaries come from taxpayer money that must be accounted for," she said. "However, please understand that this error in payroll is going to hit the employees in our department harder than employees in any other department as some of us will have to pay back more than one month's salary."
Ms. Santifort said she understood that county officials had said some of the fault rests with supervisors who had little training in using the system.
However, a major problem is the manner in which overtime is calculated, she said.
Wayne County Manager Lee Smith said Ms. Santifort was "absolutely right" in her comments about calculating overtime.
"It is complicated. It is inefficient. It doesn't work," Smith said. "At the last meeting, I stated to you that we need to go away from that. We have needed to go away from that for a long time. It is too confusing. We need to go to straight overtime and pay that way. No wonder mistakes were made."
Smith said he had asked Office of Emergency Services staff to help devise a plan to move toward straight overtime. The group has met three times.
Commissioner Bud Gray was greeted with a chorus of "yes sir" from the employees when he asked if straight overtime was what they wanted.
One employee said she had been underpaid by $77 prompting Commissioner Ray Mayo to ask Smith if the underpaid employees had been paid.
Express payroll is being done so that money should be in their accounts that day, Smith said.
It was at that point Bell suggested that commissioners should meet with Smith in closed session to discuss the issue as a personnel matter.
"First of all, I disagree and No. 2, I am just asking for clarity on her subject matter to counsel," Keen said.
Keen asked if he could get a copy of Ms. Santifort's statement. County Attorney Borden Park said that depended on whether she would provide a copy -- she did.
"One of the things that I am not pleased with as commissioner is the fact that it seems like it has taken so long to get these people paid," Mayo said. "It is not the fact that we made mistakes, it is the fact that I feel we really haven't looked at the issues soon enough."
"Mr. Mayo, may I interject something here?" Bell said. "Stop and think what we are doing. We are going to have our county manager, Mr. Smith, and human resources, we need to do this in a different venue. It is not for us as commissioners to sit here and throw things out at the people taking care of this thing. Let's give them the opportunity to get to the bottom of this thing."
Commissioners could make comments all day, Bell said.
"But we don't have the facts," he said.
Mayo said he did have the facts in the form of calls and emails from a "bunch of people here."
However, the information has to be verified, Smith said.
"We don't need to make it look like we have a big fight between the employees and the county commissioners," Bell said.
There is no fight, the employees said.
Commissioner Jack Best joked that he thought the emergency medical services personnel were there because of all of the "old men and woman" on the board.
"This is not a funny issue," Keen said. "I am asking to be recognized Mr. Chairman."
"I am not going to recognize you yet," Bell said.
"Well, I would like to be sir," Keen said.
Ms. Santifort started to speak, but Keen said, "Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me."
"Wait just a minute Mr. Keen," Bell said.
Ms. Santifort continued and asked if it would be possible to have an emergency medical services employee sit in on the meetings looking at the issue of overtime.
Smith said he would talk to OES management to see how they wanted to handle that.
Keen continued and said he wanted to know who the people where who were speaking since they did not come to the podium and identify themselves.
But Bell banged the gavel and declared the public comment section over.
"Then I would like to be recognized," Keen said. "First of all this is not personnel. This is administration. This issue has been before us at the last meeting. The comments I want to make can either be done now or during my comment section.
"It is the administrative part of the way they are getting paid. They are either getting underpaid or they are getting overpaid -- just as simple as that. It has been brought before this board. It is a system that we have purchased. I guess you told us last time it was $200,000. I haven't seen a purchase order. I don't know how much it cost, but I know it cost the citizens of this county $200,000."
If it is a problem in one department it could be in others, and before "you know it we have a system that we paid for with your hard-earned tax dollars that doesn't work," he said.
"It may be broken for this county," Keen said. "It is my job as a commissioner. Mr. Chairman I have 20,800 people in my district."
Bell told Keen he knew that because Keen had said that on previous occasions.
"Please let me finish Mr. Chairman."
Bell told Keen he was "getting out of order."
He reminded Keen that commissioners had another appointment and could not afford to have him "spend all of this time talking."
Other commissioners want to comment, too, he said.
"We are not in the (commissioners') comment section," Keen said.
"Yes we are, too," Bell said banging the gavel and asking Gray and the rest of the board members for comment.