Monterey County sheriff's officials on Friday blasted a civil grand jury report that accused the department of paying excessive employee overtime.
"I find the grand jury report regarding the use of overtime to be irresponsible," Sheriff Scott Miller said. "The lack of due diligence is appalling. The fact that they didn't contact me is unexplainable."
The report, issued late Thursday, said overtime in most county departments was reasonable, but found "excessive levels" in the emergency communications and sheriff's departments, especially in the county jail.
"Excessive overtime may indicate poor management of human resources, an overstretched workforce and the possibility that some employees are 'gaming' the system through unproductive use of time," the report stated.
The civil grand jury's interim reports are separate from a final report to be released in January, when the grand jury finishes its term.
The allegations are familiar ones. An independent analyst in 2005 found that overtime costs in the department, then headed by Sheriff Mike Kanalakis, could have funded 48 full-time positions. In 2006, the overtime budget of $4 million was more than double the budgeted amount. At that time, a Herald analysis found that unfilled vacancies were being covered by officer overtime.
These days, officials say staffing cuts are to blame. Miller said 75 deputy positions have been eliminated in the past decade, and keeping a jail fully staffed and responding to service calls 24/7 means overtime is a given.
He said the new report's allegation that "there was a degree of apathy regarding this excessive overtime" in his department was "disgusting."
"To say we're apathetic is absolutely wrong. The apathy seems to be in their investigation," he said.
The report said grand jurors interviewed "managers or their deputies" in six county departments, but Miller and jail Chief Jeff Budd said no one from the grand jury spoke to any executive management staff in the Sheriff's Office about the overtime.
The report said the Sheriff's Office projected an overtime budget of $3,078,941 for the current fiscal year, but as of June 15 had spent $4,167,081 — 35 percent over budget.
The jail budgeted $1,092,895 for its overtime, but spent $1,934,921, an increase of 77 percent, the report said.
Miller said other salary savings, including the elimination of two dozen sworn positions, covered the difference.
The department has historically spent about $3 million to $4 million annually on overtime, he said, but is on par to meet its overall budget.
"We had to take a $5 million cut without dropping service levels in 2011-12. We had 24 badges cut," he said. "And we have saved Monterey County hundreds of thousands of dollars through prudent budget oversight."
Miller said his written response, due within 60 days, will include a complaint about not being consulted during the investigation.
"I do respect the process," he said. "This one's just tough to ignore."
Cap on hours
The report specifically criticized the Sheriff's Office for a lack of action.
"In July of 2012, a cap of 56 hours per week including overtime was discussed but nothing has been implemented as of October 2012," the report stated.
Miller and others say that claim is untrue. Caps were put into place more than six months ago, Miller said.
Deputy Dan Mitchell, president of the Deputy Sheriffs' Association, said within the past year, the union and management "worked together to formulate a plan that would address the issue."
However, Mitchell called the grand jury's 56-hour limit "arbitrary" and "not practical for our needs." He said his union has been working with management to set other limits, including 16-hour workday maximums and caps on the number of days worked in a row.
Jail Chief Budd said deputies' work week is currently capped at 57 hours.
There are exceptions, Mitchell said, for "unavoidable emergencies," such as an 18-hour standoff that recently took place in Aromas.
The report said that in 2011, eight of the county's top 10 overtime recipients were jail employees.
Mitchell said it shouldn't matter if large amounts of overtime pay fall to individual deputies.
"It's the same number of dollars," he said. "You can pay $30,000 to one employee who really wants it and is available, or you can have three people who didn't want it getting $10,000 each."
The report also suggested that because several sheriff's employees are on long-term workers' compensation leave, the department should tap into "on loan" staff positions from the county to fill those voids instead of using officer overtime.
"These positions are available to all departments, upon justification, to supplement needed positions not previously approved in the individual departments' budget," the report said.
Miller dismissed that recommendation as "impossible" and said the report's reasoning has "a hole you can drive a truck through."
"We have highly trained deputies off on medical leave. I've never heard of these positions on loan for deputies. It defies logic, and we would have explained that to them, but they didn't bother to contact us," he said. "Where are these deputies?"
Union president Mitchell said peace officer positions are not easy to fill.
Looking for jobs
On Friday, more than 350 prospective employees lined up in the department's parking lot on Natividad Road to try out for 30 new deputy jobs, he said. But even those won't help this year's overtime budget — the state Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training estimates only 1 to 5 percent of applicants will get hired, and it will be 2014 before they start working in the jail or on patrol.
"It's a very selective process," Mitchell said.
He said his union appreciates the grand jury's concerns, especially about employee fatigue when working long shifts.
"We agree these are issues to be addressed, and we've been working with the department to address them," he said.
"They're concerned about $2 million in overtime — I'd like to see them re-hire some of the 75 deputies that have been laid off in the last 10 years."
Julia Reynolds can be reached at 648-1187 or firstname.lastname@example.org.