City to release overtime data

Some news to report regarding overtime for the senior managers and other exempt staff at the City of Prince George. First, some background.

The Citizen sent these questions by email to Michael Kellett, the city's senior communications officer, back in September.

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"Has there been a final number been put on what the city will be billing EMBC (Emergency Management B.C.) for this summer's evacuation? If not, is there an estimate on when that number will be known and that bill passed on to the province?

"Did any members of senior management of the city work billable overtime hours during the 2018 evacuation, where the overtime policy for exempt employees was enacted? If so, how many managers did so, for how many hours and what was their total overtime income? If not, why not and what changed from 2017 to 2018 that didn't require senior city staff needing to put in overtime hours or did senior staff put their time on the evacuation under regular time? If this was the process, how much time did they put as regular time?"

Kellett replied three days later that city staff were still dealing with a few evacuees and were still processing the expenses.

"The City plans to issue a communication to media and the general public later this year or early in the new year that will include detailed information about the financial aspects of the 2018 Emergency Operations Centre and Emergency Support Services operations including staff compensation," he wrote.

With no information by the end of the year, The Citizen asked Kellett on Jan. 2 for an update on its information request and when it might expect a response.

A reply came on Monday.

Now, the news.

First, "the City has not yet submitted to the Province an accounting of the expenses related to the 2018 wildfire emergency operations and the provision of emergency support services to evacuees," Kellett wrote.

That confirms what the folks at EMBC told us two weeks ago (when news folks don't get an answer to something, especially for government, we just call someone else in hopes they can help).

"The Province is aware that the City's submission will be received later this year and that it will likely take several more months," Kellett explained. "Following the submission to the Province, Administration will provide a summary of the submission to City Council and a report on the topic will be presented at an open meeting of Council."

The devil is in the details, of course, and the overtime wages taken by senior city employees during the 2017 wildfire evacuation crisis were tucked away into a final bill that was sent to EMBC. It might never have come out, had The Citizen not done a year-to-year comparison of the wages of senior city managers from 2014 through 2017 as stated in the city's Statements of Financial Information (SOFI) released each June. The city's management team grew in size and the individual managers were bestowed with new titles and hefty pay raises in 2015 and 2016. The increases in 2017, however, were attributed to the wildfire overtime.

Kellett had some good news about that in his Monday email.

"Going forward, the City is making a change to how it structures its Statements of Financial Information (SOFI) report, such that overtime compensation for each employee who makes more than $75,000 per year will now be clearly identified and separated out for each employee," he wrote.

Mayor Lyn Hall and the rest of city council all pledged during the municipal election campaign to look at the overtime issue if they were re-elected.

This more detailed reporting in future SOFIs is a great first step.

Hopefully, a review of the overtime policy for non-union and management staff - and whether one is even needed at all - is next.

-- Editor-in-chief Neil Godbout

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