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January 9th, 2013 ANDREA DAMEWOOD | News Stories
 

Overtime Busts

Budget-breaking practices allow some sheriff’s deputies to double their pay.

news1_3910A SLEIGH LOAD OF MONEY: Multnomah County Sheriff Sgt. Diana Olsen stands with Deputy Don Bryant, dressed as Santa, during a 2009 charity holiday party. Olsen, 57, is one of dozens of department employees to dramatically increase her take-home pay using overtime. Last year, she earned $156,932—67 percent more than her base salary of $93,874. - IMAGE: David Ashton
     
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Sgt. Diana Olsen has occasionally been the face of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office. She heads up the sheriff’s search and rescue team, and when a 7-year-old Skyline Elementary School student named Kyron Horman went missing in 2010, Olsen was sometimes on the TV news providing updates about the hunt for the little boy.

She’s also well known inside the sheriff’s office for something else: her excessive use of overtime long after the Horman investigation slowed.

In one six-week period in the fall of 2011, Olsen claimed an astounding 300 hours overtime, worth $20,000. Her timecards included one hour of overtime for buying groceries for a search and rescue team outing, five hours to take a rifle test she had previously failed, and 10 hours of “policy review” while at her beach house in Ocean Park, Wash. Only one hour was charged to the Kyron Horman case.

In 2011, Olsen (who also owns a home in Hawaii) increased her base salary of $90,879 by 90 percent with overtime, running her pay up to $172,710. Her practices so concerned sheriff’s officials they rewrote the department’s overtime policies.

But Olsen, 57, is still bringing in big overtime pay, and she’s not alone.

WW’s analysis of two years’ worth of payroll and budget records shows the sheriff’s office has spent more than twice the money budgeted for overtime.

The top 30 overtime earners during 2012 pulled in more than $1.2 million above their regular pay. 

Olsen, whose overtime increased her salary by only 67 percent last year, isn’t near the top of 2012’s list.

A civilian facility security officer worked enough to increase his salary 109 percent. A deputy sheriff pulled in a 103 percent increase. 

And Daniel Carrithers, a corrections sergeant, used overtime to run up his base salary of $92,106 to a breathtaking $182,008—making him the highest-paid employee of Multnomah County, above even county physicians and medical directors.

SILENT SHERIFF: Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton has yet to curb overtime spending.
IMAGE: Leslie Montgomery
Overtime problems have long plagued the sheriff’s office, which runs the county’s corrections systems and operates deputy patrols. An annual grand jury report that oversees county corrections has routinely cited staffing and overtime issues—and Sheriff Dan Staton, when he ran for office in 2010, promised to deal with them.

But Staton’s office, halfway through its budget year, has already burned through its $3.6 million overtime budget. 

After more than a week of requests for comment, Staton did not make himself available for this story.

Staton instead referred questions to Chief Deputy Drew Brosh, who says overtime spending is a result of not having enough deputies to run a 24/7 operation.

“People are working a lot of overtime,” Brosh says, “and earning a lot of money.”

Yet the longstanding tradition of paying deputies time-and-a-half to cover for a sick jail guard or a vacationing patrol deputy continues.

And it leaves the door open for Olsen and dozens of deputies to drastically increase their pay and beef up their pension payouts under Oregon’s Public Employee Retirement System. 

“[Olsen] is the poster child for why public employees get slammed,” says former Capt. Brett Elliott, who first blew the whistle on her overtime use. “They refuse to take action with this employee and actually hold her accountable. It’s a chronic issue, and it is a product of their failure to get a handle on it.”

Records show corrections division deputies and sergeants received, on average, a 16 percent pay increase through overtime last year.

But those averages doesn’t tell the whole story. A smaller number of deputies, sergeants and corrections officers—44 in all—succeeded in increasing their base pay by at least half last year.

Fuavai Tapasa, a facility security officer who joined the sheriff’s office in 2001, saw the biggest increase in his pay from overtime, 109 percent, pushing his pay to $95,243. 

The year before, a corrections officer, Shahram Afzal, saw his pay increase by 116 percent, to $152,996.

Then there’s Deputy Brent Laizure, who on average has doubled his salary for two years running. His pay hit $142,892 last year (including a $5,013 increase in his base salary).

But it’s the case of Olsen that caused sheriff’s officials to take action.

Her practices were brought to light by Elliott, who filed a federal whistle-blower lawsuit against the department last May. 

Elliott alleged he was retaliated against and demoted to lieutenant after accusing that Undersheriff Tim Moore of fabricated documents to earn state law enforcement certification. A state investigation cleared Moore. Elliott’s case settled in August, with the department reinstating his rank of captain and awarding him $80,000. Elliott is now officially retired from the sheriff’s office.

Elliott detailed Olsen’s overtime use in a Nov. 28, 2011, memo to higher-ups and called for an outside investigation into what he called “rampant, freewheeling overtime.”

Instead, Chief Deputy Jason Gates tells WW he sent Olsen’s case to internal affairs, which failed to find any explicit wrongdoing.

Gates says that neither he nor Olsen’s immediate supervisor, Capt. Monte Reiser, was aware of her extensive overtime until Elliott brought it to their attention. --

Gates says he verbally authorized the overtime. But, he says, “It couldn’t be accounted for.”

“If there is anybody to blame, it was our administration, and me,” he adds. “It is an extravagant amount of overtime.”

Gates says he reassigned some of Olsen’s duties (she remains search and rescue coordinator) and rewrote policy to require his written approval of overtime that goes beyond filling in for another officer’s vacation or sick leave. Sergeants must also have another sergeant enter overtime for them.

Olsen did not return multiple requests from WW for comment.

Elliott says he can’t believe Olsen wasn’t disciplined.

“They did nothing other than change the rules for the future,” Elliott says. “They did nothing to hold Reiser and Olsen accountable.”


TIME AND HALF—AND MORE

The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office regularly busts its overtime budgets. More than $1.2 million in extra pay was collected among the department’s top 30 overtime earners in 2012. Here are the top five last year, based on percentage increases over their salaries.

SOURCE: Multnomah County

 

Chief Deputy Brosh says overtime in the sheriff’s office is necessary because of short staffing in the department, which employs 750.

He says the office is down by about 15 people in the corrections division and seven in law enforcement. Those empty posts, coupled with vacations and sick leave, mean that overtime adds up, he says.

The sheriff’s budget is a political dance between Multnomah County’s elected commissioners, who set an overall limit ($120 million this year), and Sheriff Staton, who’s independently elected and can spend the money as he sees fit.

Staton, despite exceeding his overtime budget, has always spent just under his overall budget, Gates says.

But that money has to come from somewhere in the sheriff’s budget. Ironically, the first way to make up for overspending comes from about $2 million in staff vacancies. Up next, says Gates, is training.

“If it isn’t free and in town, or if it involves any overtime, I deny it outright,” Gates says of training, adding that online courses have made training more efficient.

Brosh says that non-mandatory training, including mental health, public communication, gear and tactics, are the first to go.

The sheriff’s overtime spending will never hit zero, he notes, but the department is seeking a balance between paying existing officers extra and hiring more staff.

“We like to call it ‘the sweet spot,’” Brosh says.

As of now, the department appears to be in the outer orbit of a sweet spot. The county commission last year gave the department $888,000 to increase its staffing. 

It’s a work in progress at best.

Finding qualified corrections and law enforcement officers isn’t easy—every 100 applicants include maybe three men and women good enough for the job, Brosh says.

Despite such selectivity, the sheriff’s office hired 24 deputies in fiscal 2012, he says. 

That may be far from enough: The 2012 Multnomah County Corrections Grand Jury report, released in December, says the office may need to hire up to 85 new officers before July due to possible retirements.

Once the additional deputies are brought on, Brosh says, the department can test whether it’s got the numbers right.

“Good stewardship of the public’s money,” Gates says, “is always on the forefront of what we do.”


FACT: Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton earned $142,145 last year. Thanks to overtime, 13 deputies and corrections officers made more than he did.

 
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