Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify the initial paid leave for furloughed workers.
Monroe County officials were looking to save $733,000 over 16 weeks, or eight pay periods, when they decided to furlough 61 employees, who initially were put on temporary paid leave and then encouraged to apply for unemployment or use whatever vacation or sick time they had to continue being paid.
During that paid leave for 61 furloughed workers, the remaining county employees were still working full time, with more than 400 of them accruing a total of $1.5 million in emergency response overtime pay.
Some of those working employees were making significantly more than their usual salary due to the emergency response overtime pay policy, County Commissioner Craig Cates said on April 27.
Cates will introduce a resolution at the BOCC meeting Thursday, April 30, that would rescind the authorization for emergency response overtime pay and would effectively eliminate the bulk of that $1.5 million overtime total, representing 28,822 hours of work.
The county signed an emergency pay policy to cover the COVID-19 response at 1.5 times the employee’s salary effective March 17 (much as it does during a hurricane). Then, on April 15, the BOCC voted to stop paying overtime effective April 12. Cates’ resolution would revoke overtime pay for the entire four-week period.
Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi told The Weekly the pay plan is a “work in progress.”
“No one has gotten paid that money, and they’re not going to get paid that money,” Gastesi said on April 28, estimating that the actual amount of total overtime pay will be a third of what has circulated on a spreadsheet.
“And if it takes two or three commission meetings to figure it all out, then that’s what we’ll do. We recognized early on that the hurricane pay plan was not applicable to this event. We brought in another plan that’s basically a ‘blue sky’ plan. It pays anybody normal pay and time and a half if you work over 40 hours a week. But this is a work in progress. We’ve never been here before.”
County Commissioner Michelle Coldiron said she expects it “to be a robust discussion” at the April 30 BOCC meeting.
Many of the workers who logged overtime are salaried employees who aren’t typically eligible for overtime without the special emergency authorization.
There are 102 county employees who logged $5,000 or more in overtime since March 11, when it became clear the pandemic would significantly affect Monroe County and the entire nation. Thirty-one county employees logged $10,000 or more in overtime since the pandemic began to affect the Florida Keys, according to a spreadsheet provided by Kevin Madok, Monroe County’s Clerk of Court.
Neither Gastesi nor County Attorney Bob Shillinger is eligible for overtime pay because both are contract employees, rather than salaried employees, according to Kristen Livengood, the county spokeswoman.
The five highest overtime amounts are attributed to Shannon Weiner, director of emergency management, who logged $26,457 in overtime; Sheryl Graham, director of social services, who logged $21,518; William DeSantis, director of facilities and maintenance, who logged $18,232; Bryan Cook, director of employee services, who logged $18,924; and Livengood, public information officer, who logged $17,428 in overtime, under the emergency response pay policy.
Weiner told The Weekly she will decline the emergency response pay if it ends up being approved for payment.
Weiner also noted in response to questions from The Weekly that it is not a conflict of interest for her to collect the emergency response pay at a rate of 1.5 times her regular salary, while also being responsible for declaring when the state of emergency will be over. The decision to end the emergency, she said via email, is a collective decision among the county administrator, county mayor, Monroe County sheriff and Monroe County’s fire rescue chief.
Gastesi has estimated the coronavirus pandemic could cost the county $5 million to $10 million in revenues.
Although Cates’ proposed resolution states that Monroe County is the only county in Florida
enacting its emergency response pay, Weiner said, “This varies across the state.”
Madok said he polled about 20 county clerks and “almost all said (they weren’t offering emergency response pay), but there are 67 counties in Florida.” He added that he has significant concerns about Monroe County’s financial situation, particularly due to the $11.8 million debt that remains following Hurricane Irma in 2017, much of which is tied to reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Coldiron said she expects the county to be reimbursed for overtime pay by FEMA in the same way it was following Hurricane Irma, but that has not been confirmed.
Coldiron said she will not vote to rescind the overtime pay for county employees.
“I am only as good as my word,” she said. “I can’t tell someone I am not going to honor a contract. That’s not how I operate.”
“I’m not confident the county has the ability to pay this overtime,” Madok told The Weekly on April 28.
He said he is accruing the overtime pay requests, but will not pay them unless specifically directed to do so by the Board of County Commissioners at their meeting on Thursday, April 30.
“As long as I don’t violate the law, I have the authority to not pay something,” Madok said. “And if the County Commission directs me to pay this overtime, then I’ll have to ask them to tell me where to take that money from, because the general fund doesn’t have the liquidity to pay it.”
The overtime pay requests and signed time cards were submitted as usual to Madok with the intention that they be paid, and although Madok said no county officials have pressured him to pay the overtime, he has heard “secondhand grumbling from county employees wondering where their overtime is.”
Madok said he conducted “a deep dive” into the county’s finances “when it became apparent that this pandemic was going to impact Monroe County, and I realized Monroe County is not as financially sound as we had thought, especially since Hurricane Irma. I’ve repeatedly raised these concerns in meetings with the county administrator and the county mayor.”
Monroe County Mayor Heather Carruthers, like Gastesi, emphasized that the pandemic is uncharted water for governments, businesses and everyone else.
“The personnel pay document is not appropriately geared to this pandemic and needs to be amended,” Carruthers said. “I thought we already had addressed this and taken care of this issue. I thought the elimination of the emergency response pay was retroactive to the beginning of this pandemic and would thus have eliminated the bulk of that $1.5 million overtime accrual.”
Carruthers added that she had not, as of Tuesday, looked closely at the overtime spreadsheet, but is meeting with Madok on April 29 to discuss it.
The virtual County Commission meeting takes place at 11 a.m. on Thursday, April 30. The agenda is available here. To watch the meeting, visit www.monroecounty-fl.gov or on Comcast Channel 76 or AT&T Uverse Channel 99. To participate in the meeting, visit www.monroecounty-fl.gov/BOCCmeetingapril30 and register with a name and email address or call 646-518-9805 and enter Webinar ID# 434 572 051.
See the spreadsheet detailing emergency response overtime pay, here.
— Sara Matthis and Tiffany Duong contributed to this report.