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City Council Describes Police Overtime As Runaway Freight Train
From The Lowell Sun, March 3

LOWELL, MA - Comparing Police Department overtime to a "runaway freight train," city councilors last night vowed to get tough, unanimously approving a series of motions to begin addressing the issue.

On three separate votes, councilors:

Directed City Manager John Cox to investigate the feasibility of conducting a departmentwide management audit. Councilors, however, are hesitant about spending money for an audit, and are leaning toward having Cox do it.

Will have the city conduct an analysis on whether it makes sound financial sense to hire 20 more police officers to handle some of the duties that until know have been completed by officers working at time-and-a-half, a rate which can approach $75 at the top scale.

Will have the Police Department develop a series of written policies regarding "the fair and equitable" distribution of overtime and how much is too much.

"It's a runaway freight train unless we do something about it," Councilor Rodney Elliott said. "We have a problem. We can't have a handful of superior officers making all the overtime. It doesn't make fundamental sense."
The council's action was in response to a recent Sun column that reported nine out of 10 of the top city wage-earners last year were police officers.

Topping the list was Deputy Superintendent Dennis Cormier, who was paid $148,281 on a base salary of $103,663, followed by Sgt. James Trudel, $142,415 on a base salary of $74,335, and Superintendent Edward Davis at $134,201, whose base salary is $122,090.

"These are high salaries, and in Lowell, where the average person probably makes $30,000 a year, wel l..." Councilor Bill Martin said.

Davis didn't disagree, but said the city spends about $1 million in overtime annually, the same as it did 10 years ago.

What has changed, however, is the number of overtime hours worked. In 1997, for example, Davis said officers worked nearly 40,000 overtime hours, which included court time and comp time which is time off for overtime hours worked.

Today, the total is about 28,000, but the bottom-line number hasn't changed because salaries have risen steadily.

Although the department has few, if any, written policies regarding overtime, Davis said he monitors it. For example, any overtime exceeding 20 hours a week is considered too much. Trudel is at that level now. In contrast, Cormier works about eight hours a week of overtime.

City Councilor Richard Howe, a strong critic of the city's municipal unions, said councilors can talk about the overtime issue all they want. But the only meaningful reform will happen at the bargaining table, he said, because much of what police officers earn, and how they earn it, is regulated by collective bargaining agreements.

"The earnings are extravagant," Howe said. "But it's the contracts that control the disbursal of funds and all we do is summarily rubber-stamp the contracts which allow conditions to continue."

Cox has reached tentative, one-year deals with both the superior officers and patrolmen's union. Neither, however, has yet been presented to the City Council for ratification.

Davis echoed a similar sentiment. "I have no choice but to work within the four corners of the contracts," he said.

In two related motions, councilors directed Cox to compile a list of all city employees who are allowed city-owned vehicles to and from work.

Cox said the information will be forthcoming. "I can guarantee you there will be a policy change in this regard," Cox said.

They also directed City Solicitor Christine O'Connor to get a ruling on whether city employees, particularly police officers, are required by either state or local law to live within city limits. There is apparently conflicting information in that regard.
 
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