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.

A manager at Atlanta’s airport awarded overtime hours to her husband, son and nephew rather than giving the chance to earn extra money to other employees, a city audit states. Image Wikimedia Commons user Iijjccoo.

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:

city overtime, total hours

Atlanta’s payments to employees for overtime has more than doubled over five years, according to an Atlanta audit. Credit: Atlanta

  • “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.

overtime, police activity

One Atlanta police officer performed one public safety function during 135.5 hours of overtime hours for which he was paid, according to a citywide audit of overtime paid. Credit: Atlanta

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.”

 

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

6 replies
  1. Avatar
    Malcolm M Bibby says:

    Any time that I see that an item is reported by Saporteport.com, I immediately read it. It uses facts in the report. Well done!!Report

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    JK57 says:

    Awarding overtime pay to RELATIVES who work for a City Agency in the SAME department is both nepotism and FRAUD. What does it take to get someone fired and their pension clawed back in this City???Report

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    atlman says:

    When you show the same outrage that Nathan Deal – who I like outside of his real ethics issues – David Ralston and the other state and national GOPers (Donald Trump, the Bush family) have then you can demonstrate that your actual anger is over corruption and not Atlanta being the ONLY power center in this state – and for that matter the entire southeast outside of Miami – that isn't under GOP control. That is the real reason why the same folks who ignore corruption among their own ranks are trying to steal control of the city airport that the state never contributed a dime to build or maintain these last 40 years.Report

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    OG Atl says:

    I know you mean well but you're lost on this one. The "city" didn't and doesn't pay for the airport. Taxpayers did and do. Taxpayers of all varieties…city, county, state and federal. Some of us are all the above. Many who don't live here but use the services of the airport and its vendors also fund the operation of the airport. Its one key reason the FAA put the airport on notice last year, as they have done numerous times in the last 40 years. Corruption and power grabs are apolitical.Report

    Reply
  5. Avatar
    atlman says:

    Oh please. "Taxypayers" did not pay for the airport. The CITY OF ATLANTA taxpayers bought the land. The CITY OF ATLANTA taxpayers built the runways. The CITY OF ATLANTA taxpayers paid for the buildings, machinery and other infrastructure. The CITY OF ATLANTA taxpayers have paid for decades of ongoing administrative, repair and maintenance costs. County? No. State? No. Federal? No.

    Tell me, what asset in Cobb, Gwinnett and Forsyth County that was built and maintained with local funds belong "to the taxpaypers?" I have a better idea: since "the taxpayers" have such a great investment in Hartsfield, do they (you) have the same attitude towards MARTA? Atlanta Public Schools? Grady Hospital? Nah. Of course not. Right?

    Please. Look. The Republicans in North Carolina tried to take over Charlotte's city built and maintained airport a few years back. The FAA sided against them and shut it down. Burt Jones is gambling that Trump's DOT chief will give the Georgia GOP a more favorable hearing for partisan reasons. Even if that happens the federal courts will block it. Because the state can't come in and assume financial control of something that they didn't build and do not own. You should be happy for that. Because if the Georgia GOP sets this precedent with Hartsfield, you better believe that it will be open season on anything and everything that has value in Republican areas when Democrats take back control. Not that I am looking forward to that personally, but if the GOP gets away with stealing something that they haven't contributed a dime to building, running or managing I will gladly switch my allegiances. Sure Atlanta has some corruption and ethics problems but the Georgia GOP has had their own share of those since going back to the 1990s as both Linda Schrenko and Mitch Skandalakis did jail time. And the only reason why Nathan Deal became Georgia governor was because he resigned to avoid an ethics investigation, which he and the GOP shut down on the state level.

    I didn't get too angry at that because "corrupt and competent" is as good as it gets in Georgia regardless of whether the GOP or Democrats are in charge. Normally we get "corrupt and incompetent" (Sonny Perdue and Bill Campbell") or "honest but ineffective" (Andrew Young) which I guess is better from a moral standpoint but wow the city and state were spiraling down the tubes during the Young and Joe Frank Harris eras and no one should want to go back to that. But if the GOP dares to hold the city of Atlanta to higher standards than it does itself, then they will find themselves in a lot of trouble from voters like me. Especially since the federal courts will slap them down anyway.Report

    Reply

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