Opinion - Saratoga Springs Politics

The below blog posts are written by John Kaufmann.
These opinions do not reflect the views of Saratoga TODAY newspaper.

Monday, 08 January 2024 17:05

City Deputies Improperly Paid For Allegedly Being “On-Call”

By John Kaufmann | Saratoga Springs Politics

Three of the city Deputies, facilitated by their respective bosses, used a poorly defined provision adopted by the Saratoga Springs City Council to feed at the public trough.

  • Angella Rella, Deputy Mayor: $5,640.75
  • Stacy Connors, Deputy Commissioner of Accounts: $4,136.75
  • Heather Crocker, Deputy Commissioner of Finance: $1,128.15

A Proposition Cynically Exploited

In February of 2023, the City Council voted for a major increase in their deputies’ salaries. At the same meeting, prompted by Public Works Commissioner Jason Golub, they added a new perk. All deputies could be paid extra to be “on call”.

As a computer consultant who supports software, I thought I was familiar with the term “on call”. This is the way I have always understood it:

if someone such as a doctor or engineer is on call, they are ready to go and help whenever they are needed as part of their job

https://www.ldoceonline.com/dictionary/be-on-call

So, as a computer consultant, I might be required to be on call in case, for instance, a client was installing new software and ran into trouble. This would mean that I would have to agree to be available immediately by phone or perhaps required to be able to be on sight within a certain amount of time to assist the client. On-call doctors, likewise, must be sober and able to respond within minutes should a medical emergency occur while they are on call.

At the time of the vote, I had understood that this provision was crafted as a way to compensate Public Works Deputy Joe O’Neil, whose job really requires that he be on call to deal with emergencies such as broken water pipes or snow storms, which his department would be responsible for.

Joe O’Neil is an outstanding city employee whose job really does subject him to the need to be potentially available twenty-four-seven.

Unfortunately, the language of the resolution was extremely poorly crafted, making it vulnerable to abuse. The problem was compounded due to the failure of Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi to properly monitor and manage this perk. At the time of the meeting, she told her colleagues that she would come up with additional parameters for the new perk and that she would assess the program and report on it quarterly. 

In my FOIL request, I sought all documents regarding “on-call.” I received a copy of the resolution establishing on-call along with sheets submitted by the Deputies for payment. My FOIL produced no documents related to Sanghvi’s promises to produce parameters clarifying the new policy nor any documents establishing that she reviewed the program quarterly as she had promised at the February meeting.

I emailed her requesting a meeting on the issue.

She responded by directing me to the Human Resources office. I then wrote back to her asking:

  • Could she provide me with her quarterly findings?
  • Could she provide me with her suggested parameters for “on-call”?
  • As the resolution establishing ”on-call” was to go into effect on February 9, 2023, could she explain how Deputy Mayor Angella Rella was paid for being on-call for the month of January and the first week of February?
  • As the resolution calls for paying $125.35 a week for being on-call, how was the Finance Department calculating payments if someone was on-call for only a few days?

To date, I have not had a response to these questions from the commissioner. In our form of government, it is the responsibility of the director of finance to establish controls over city spending. These are serious questions that deserve proper answers. To refuse to respond raises grave concerns about what other breakdowns of oversight may be going on in her office.

The Resolution

This is the relevant language from the resolution that included establishing on-call:

executive_employee_resolution_2-7-2023-3_page_2.jpg

Note that this benefit was supposed to only be used by deputies whose department had 24/7 response requirements and involved the necessity of being available to respond to emergency calls. [The final version was amended to remove the phrase “that is not operationally staffed 24/7” thus allowing the Public Safety Deputy to be eligible although Tetu never put in for this pay.]

What Constitutes On Call for a Deputy??

Consider this document from Deputy Mayor Angella Rella seeking payment for being “on-call”:

 

This is just one of the four pay forms Ms. Rella submitted and that Ron Kim approved to be paid. Three were submitted on November 11, 2023. The fourth was dated December 24. Note the timing of Ms. Rella’s submission of these forms. According to the resolution, this benefit was to be approved and paid on a quarterly basis, but Rella waited until November 11, 2023, to begin to submit her bills. That was just four days following her boss’ defeat in the November 7 election. 

The resolution states that the benefit was to go into effect on February 9, 2023. Yet Rella asked for and was paid for the entire month of January and the first week in February. The Finance Department is responsible for making sure claims are legitimate when they do payroll, yet they approved this.

Most startling is that the four documents she billed for claim that she was on call seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day, from January 2, 2023, to December 24, 2023.

As readers will observe, the form for reporting includes a column titled “Reason,” which I assume was meant to explain what was going on that required her availability. She didn’t bother to write anything in this column. Instead, she simply pasted into the head of the form that “…she was available for contact by the Mayor’s Department and was responsible for responding to emergency situations, events, and assigning subordinate employee(s) during these week dates.” If this sounds familiar, it’s because she simply took the language from the resolution.

Who Knows What “On Call” Means?

How could this happen?

Missing from the resolution were the following:

  • Any definition as to what is construed as being on-call.
  • Whether the employee was required to meet sobriety standards while on-call.
  • How quickly an employee was required to respond to an on-call demand (would being on a plane or going anywhere where cell service was problematic, disqualify a deputy from this benefit?). Just how available does a person have to be when on-call?
  • What constituted the kind of potential emergencies that merited the person being on-call?
  • What kind of potential emergencies constituted the need for someone heading the Accounts Department to be on-call? 
  • What kind of potential emergencies constituted the need for someone heading the Finance Department to be on-call?
  • What kind of potential emergencies constituted the need for someone heading the Mayor’s office to be on call (in Rella’s case, 24/7, for a year)?

Granted, the Accounts department is charged with managing the election logistics in the city, so there might be staffing issues or problems with equipment that would merit having the Deputy on call on those specific days. Other than that, the Accounts Department is responsible for doing such city business as issuing licenses, keeping city records, and assessing city properties. It’s hard to imagine what emergency could possibly occur in that Department that would require the Deputy to be paid to be on call. Nothing happens in the Accounts Department after office hours that can be construed as an emergency. 

The Finance Department includes the IT department but that department has an internal on-call policy already that was negotiated with the CSEA union. They rotate three IT staff people who are paid not $125.35 like the Deputies, but $75.00 to be on call for the week. They have successfully operated this way for years. So the Finance Department Deputy doesn’t have to manage these people to get them in should there be an IT emergency after office hours. As with the Accounts Department, nothing happens after office hours in Finance that can be construed as an emergency that needs to have anyone ready for a quick response.

Is This Being Confused With Work Outside Of Normal Business Hours?

While Rella and Finance Deputy Heather Crocker simply leave the reason column of the On-Call Pay form blank, consider this document for Deputy Commissioner Of Accounts Stacy Connors which Dillon Moran approved.

foil-reply-on-call-pay_page_2.jpg

It is unclear how to interpret this document. What does being available to respond to an emergency have to do with attending the State of the City event?What does attending a wake have to do with being on-call? What does attending a “special” City Council meeting have to do with being on-call? In her other sheets, she has “CC” in the reason column. Based on the dates, I assume this refers to City Council meetings. What does being on-call have to do with attending a City Council meeting? None of what she lists has anything to do with being “on call” yet Moran approved this and the Payroll employee in the Finance Department paid her.

Public Safety Dispatchers Get Nothing For Being On Call

According to past Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino, the Public Safety dispatchers are required to be on call for eight hours before and after their shifts but receive no special compensation for this.

Reform?

This mess really needs some sort of action. Commissioner Sanghvi is responsible for monitoring the city’s finances and for ensuring there is no abuse. Her cavalier attitude about this gross waste of city money is most unfortunate. There is no indication she plans to reconsider this, let alone reform it.

The Documents

Stacy Connors (Accounts)

foil-reply-on-call-pay_page_2-1.jpg

foil-reply-on-call-pay_page_3.webp

 

kaufmann-supplemental-foil-reply-on-call-pay_page_4.webp

Angela Rella (Mayor)

foil-reply-on-call-pay_page_7-1.jpg

foil-reply-on-call-pay_page_8.webp

foil-reply-on-call-pay_page_9.webp

kaufmann-supplemental-foil-reply-on-call-pay_page_6.webp

Heather Crocker (Finance)

kaufmann-supplemental-foil-reply-on-call-pay_page_2.webp

kaufmann-supplemental-foil-reply-on-call-pay_page_3.webp

Joe O’Neil (Public Works)

foil-reply-on-call-pay_page_4.webp

foil-reply-on-call-pay_page_5.webp

foil-reply-on-call-pay_page_6.webp

 

kaufmann-supplemental-foil-reply-on-call-pay_page_5.webp

 

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