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'What happened was not okay': Independence implements new overtime, spending policies

City of Independence
Posted at 3:58 PM, Jan 18, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-18 19:32:01-05

INDEPENDENCE, MO — It's been six months since an audit revealed the City of Independence lacks oversight on spending and policies on overtime .

With 31 recommendations from a special counsel, Zach Walker, city manager, told the I-Team the city has implemented the suggestions they're legally allowed.

Addressing overtime

"We have adopted a new personnel policy that limits how overtime can be earned and awarded in accordance with federal law," Walker said.

Overtime is often an issue addressed in collective bargaining agreements, which means the city can only do so much until those contracts are up for renewal.

"As collective bargaining agreements come open in the city over the next couple of years, we as managers are directed to renegotiate the terms over time in each of those contracts," Walker said. "In fact, we've already had one of those contracts come open and negotiated the new language in there."

In February 2022, the I-Team exposed a police officer earned $169,000 in overtime to remodel the police department. The officer's base salary is $85,000. In total, the officer earned more than $263,000 in one year, out earning high-ranking officials, including the city manager.

Independence Police Chief Adam Dustman also said he's implemented policies on overtime when it comes to the police department specifically.

"We have stopped all non police-related overtime as a result fo the special counsels investigation," Dustman said. "Back in March, I looked for ways to make sure that we could put in an accountability metric, or measurement, along with enforceability compliance with our policy. I changed our overtime police."

Oversight on city-issued credit cards

The officer at the center of the overtime investigation noted on one of his overtime slips that he needed a new p-card, which is a city-issued credit card.

When the I-Team asked for the expense reports associated with the officer's credit card, the city clerk said the officer did not have a city-issued credit card. Later, the city discovered the officer had used a credit card issued to the police department.

Those records showed the officer spent more than $40,000 on the card in 2021. Most of the purchases appear to be related to the construction work at the police department.

Still, city officials could not say how purchases are monitored, which is something that was also flagged in the audit.

"In the police department there were just a number of purchase cards issued to that department and somebody would go and check one out, use it, bring it back, but there wasn't accountability," Walker said.

On Tuesday, the city council took up a recommendation from the city manager's office to change its practices when it comes to credit card usage.

"It's going to greatly restrict the number of P-Cards available," Walker said."And two, it's going to be directly tied to an individual. As an employee, we can track those expenses."

In the meantime, Walker said the payroll department is sending reports to his office on overtime every two weeks.

"If that starts to raise red flags with us, we're sitting down with that department director and pealing back the layers of the onion to understand why a person has overtime," Walker said.

Additionally, the city manager said they've improved the city's protocols on city maintenance.

"We've implemented a city policy that handles how those are to be handled, to be bid out or to be handled in house by city maintenance staff," Walker said.

Walker said, as part of the special counsel's recommendations, the city will hire additional maintenance staff once the new budget year goes into effect.

Walker said the changes to oversight and purchases were critical for the city.

"Clearly what happened was not okay," Walker said. "But, by having it happen, we brought to light a number of deficiencies in our organization and this has allowed us to address those issues and put in managers that are going to make sure that this doesn't happen again."