When Richmond Fire Capt. Angel Bobo collected $279,105 in overtime last year, boosting his total salary to $426,303, alarm bells should have gone off.
Even after taking vacation, he had been on the job about 6,500 hours in 2013, or roughly three of every four hours, night and day, for the year. Sure, firefighters, unlike most workers, can sleep while at work, but those numbers are way beyond the pale.
No public sector employees should be collecting that much overtime, nor working that many hours -- especially not police and firefighters who should be well-rested to make life-and-death decisions.
Unfortunately, Bobo is not an isolated example. Others last year include Vallejo Police Cpl. Stanley Eng ($221,073 in overtime), Monterey County Sheriff's Deputy Jose Garcia ($165,069), and Oakland Police Officer Huy Nguyen ($165,037).
They are among the top 10 overtime earners in this newspaper's recent regional analysis by reporters Thomas Peele and Daniel Willis. Managers should have seen and stopped such excesses. It threatens the pocketbooks of taxpayers and safety of residents.
Eng, for example, in 2013 worked an average 46 hours a week of overtime. Do we want him carrying a gun and making split-second decisions on whether to fire? Probably not.
The problem is not limited to individuals. Local governments have increasingly turned to overtime to provide service. The analysis shows the share of OT in payrolls of cities, counties and special districts across the region has jumped 26 percent over three years.
Some local fire departments are now laden with astonishing overtime costs. In the San Ramon Valley, 27 percent of payroll dollars were spent on overtime in 2013. The Moraga Orinda and Livermore-Pleasanton fire districts also spent more than 20 percent on overtime, while Woodside spent 17 percent.
Overtime has also become part of the culture for cities, including Oakland, Redwood City, Richmond, East Palo Alto, Vallejo, Antioch and El Cerrito. In each, more than 10 percent of payroll dollars went to overtime.
Interestingly, while much attention has focused on the San Jose police staffing shortage, that city's overtime bill comprised 7.36 percent of gross pay in 2013. While that's significantly more than two years earlier, 24 Bay Area cities spent a higher portion on OT.
Some overtime is inevitable, in some cases even cost-efficient because it can sometimes save additional benefit costs from hiring more workers. But relying on it to staff core service leads to abuses and dangerously tired workers.
It's time for government managers to better monitor overtime budgets and ensure no one works excessive hours. Overtime should be the exception, not the rule.