The Niagara Falls Water Board – as detailed in our last edition – has made dramatic improvements since board members Nick Forster and Dan O’Callaghan joined the board in 2017.
One of their chief accomplishments was to cut overtime that workers collected.
The Water Board is run by a five-member board appointed by the Niagara Falls Mayor, the Niagara Falls Council, the NYS Assembly, the NYS State Senate and the NYS Governor.
Forster – appointed by the city council, and O’Callaghan – appointed by the mayor – accomplished things that never seemed to have gotten done before.
In this issue, I will not get into detail about the positives they accomplished, such as:
Correcting the drainage problems on Cayuga Island – by cleaning every one of the sewers.
Establishing a maintenance program to exercise the giant valves [turning them back and forth, open and close] that shut off water lines [so you can fix broken lines] so they won’t break when you really need to turn them.
Buying a vacuum truck which actually works when the weather is below 32 degrees.
Updating the fleet, which was 12 years old, and actually saving ratepayers money by so doing.
Settling the union contract. For 7 years, union members worked without a contract.
Bought a camera truck to accurately determine where leaks are – instead of just telling ratepayers that the leak is on their property – the hallmark of the old water board management.
This week the story is overtime.
Part of the no-nonsense approach that Forster and O’Callaghan brought to the Water Board is their ability to detect BS.
Both men have had considerable business experience. O’Callaghan in fact has experience in water lines and was the supervisor of the project when the water plant was built.
When Forster and O’Callaghan first came to the water board in 2017 they found something shocking: Overtime.
A few workers were getting excessive amounts of it.
There are 114 employees at the water board. But some of them got a disproportionate, if not hard to believe, amount of overtime.
For two years prior to their coming to the board, 2015 & 2016, there was almost $1.9 million in overtime paid.
What troubled Forster and O’Callaghan was that there was no monitoring of overtime. There were no time clocks. An employee would simply turn his own time in. Everyone was on the honor system.
That meant a guy could just tell his supervisor how much overtime he worked that week and he would get paid.
No questions asked.
This struck these two savvy and experienced business men as an open invitation to cheat. Let’s face it, no one in private business would just allow their employees to tell them how much overtime they got without any accountability.
The Reporter filed a FOIL request to find out just how much overtime water board workers got paid in 2016.
The Reporter had been told it was suspicious. Leaks seemed to always occur on Friday nights. They would be fixed on overtime.
“There were leaks that were probably called in on Tuesday and they would hold them until the weekend to get overtime,” O’Callaghan said.
Forster believes some weekend overtime calls were simply fictitious.
After Forster and O’Callaghan clamped down and started monitoring overtime, suddenly, surprisingly [or not] leaks started occurring during the week, instead of only on weekends.
Suddenly employees were not getting vast amounts of overtime any more. Forster and O’Callaghan put checks in place. There had to be a reason, something that could not be done during regular hours to get overtime. And there was monitoring of actual hours. A guy could not simply say he worked 10 hours of overtime. He had to prove it.
Suddenly overtime diminished drastically.
And, significantly about a dozen people – many of whom were the biggest collectors of overtime – decided to retire.
“We cut overtime in the first year to $500,000 by monitoring it,” Forster said
Our FOIL produced the income records for 2016 for every Water Board employee. We found that most employees got overtime. Several seemed to get amounts we found startling.
In this report we will only use first names and last name initials.
We are not accusing anyone of anything.
Maybe the overtime was justified.
Maybe those who retired did not retire because they could no longer get loads of unwarranted overtime.
We are just presenting facts.
Richard R. had a base pay of $58,550. He made $128,023 in 2016. That means he made $69,482 in overtime.
At a base pay rate of $28 per hour, Richard must have worked 1,654 hours of overtime in 2016. That’s an average of 31 hours of overtime every week of the year.
He retired after Forster and O’Callaghan put the clamps on overtime by monitoring it.
William G. had a base pay of $31,619. In 2016, he got $23,869 in OT or 1,084 hours. [29 hours per week.] When the overtime got monitored – the pipes no longer called him. He retired.
There is a curious story told about William and his OT In 2015.
If it is true William really pushed the envelope. Either that or he is superhuman.
We are told that William earned $168,000 in 2015.
If that is true, William made $136,000 in overtime in 2015.
That’s 6,181 hours of overtime, or 118 hours per week of overtime.
Since there are only 168 total hours in a seven day week, if you count his base time at 35 hours per week, William worked 153 hours per week in 2015. That left him with only 15 hours per week when he wasn’t working. Maybe he learned to work in his sleep.
Joe L. was another worker who seemed to work damn hard.
His base pay was $69,941. But he wound up with $132,390 in income in 2016. He made $62,449 of OT by working 1,095 hours of OT [21 hours per week.]
His job did not hold water once he couldn’t collect OT at will. He retired.
Then there was Donald P.
His base pay was $55,000 but he made $101,529. Or 1,179 hours of OT [22 hours per week.]
When the OT gambit sprung a leak he called it quits and retired.
Thomas I. was a piker compared to some of the others. His base pay was 55k he made $78,500.
Anthony S. had a base pay of $44,644. He made $66,285.
His $21,641 of overtime pay translates to 687 hours of overtime. Anthony retired when the overtime spigot got shut off.
There were lots of guys that went from around $50,000 to $80,000 like Joseph A. and Anthony C.
Lora D. jumped from a base pay of $51,000 to a more respectable $80,000. Why a secretary needed to work 725 hours of OT is anybody’s guess.
Since no one was there to monitor it – it remains merely that- a guess. But it is no guess that she retired when she could no longer come in early before anyone else and bill ratepayers for her early bird habits.
But I want to focus more on the hardest workers.
Like William L.
He zoomed from a base pay of $49,527 to 108,328 with OT. [That’s $58,804 in OT or 1,837 hours [35 hours of OT every week.]
When they turned the OT screws off, William quit.
What this means, at the very least, for ratepayers is that a slipshod method of paying workers overtime – without monitoring – without accountability – without proof that some guy was not snoring in his bed – and coming in the next day and claiming he worked all night – was in place for years prior to Forster and O’Callaghan coming aboard.
At worst, it means ratepayers were ripped off for years by a conniving group who had no one to check on them and they drained the coffers for all it was worth.
Whether this is true, whether this is worthy of further scrutiny, or whether what’s past is past and what’s done is done, is not for me to say.
Maybe the ratepayer might like to weigh in.
There is one thing for certain. The OT gravy train is over now.
Nick Forster and Dan O’Callaghan have come to town.