Last month, Mayor Byron Brown promised his administration would begin issuing “a comprehensive report encompassing all employees on paid leave” for each biweekly pay period.
Investigative Post obtained a copy of the first such report last Thursday, a week after it was distributed to department heads on Oct. 12.
It is hardly comprehensive.
The report indicates more than 1,400 city employees across 15 departments — about half the city workforce — took some sort of paid leave during the pay period covering the last two weeks of September. The report identifies the employees by name and department, and identifies the type of paid leave they took — mostly sick, vacation, or personal leave days.
But it doesn’t say how many days or hours of paid time they took.
It doesn’t say how much they were paid for that time off.
Nor does it indicate whether an employee has been on paid leave for an extended period of time. That was supposed to be the purpose of the reports: to identify long-term, expensive personnel issues so they could be resolved.
Take, for example, the case of Jill Repman, the fire department clerk who was paid nearly $600,000 while on leave for seven and half years — even while she worked a second job in the private sector. Our reporting on Repman’s long paid leave prompted the Brown administration to call her back to work. It also prompted the mayor to announce “updated measures” to “track employees who are placed on paid leave status,” including the biweekly report.
If you look up Repman in the mayor’s report, you’ll see she took paid sick, personal, and vacation days during those last two weeks of September.
But you won’t see that she was out of the office for the entire pay period, just as she was the pay period before that.
You won’t see that the city paid Repman $5,454 for 20 days in September, even though she didn’t work a single hour.
That information comes from city payroll records, which Investigative Post obtained from the city comptroller’s office for the month of September. The payroll includes pay codes that indicate an employee’s work status for each day of each pay period, their base pay and overtime pay rates, and their total pay.
According to the payroll data, the city paid its employees about $19.1 million in September. That figure excludes employees of legally separate entities such as the Buffalo Sewer Authority, Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority and the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency.
About $2.9 million — roughly 15 percent of the total payroll — was for paid days off.
Each of those paid days off is described in the payroll by one of two dozen codes, ranging from “bereavement” to “jury duty” to the aforementioned sick, personal and vacation days.
Sick, personal and vacation days account for $1.6 million of the $2.9 million in paid leave expense. A smattering of other codes, all of which are available to employees per their contracts and state labor law, account for the rest.
About $485,000 went to workers on “duty disability,” meaning they suffered some injury on the job that prevented them from working. There were 89 employees who took duty disability time in the first two weeks of September, 90 in the last two weeks. Police, fire and public works employees account for the lion’s share of this category.
About $72,000 went to employees on “Covid leave,” which is also described in the payroll as “adminday” — meaning administrative leave. It’s a pay code created during the pandemic to account for city employees paid to work from home, but it also is used for other situations that don’t fit existing paid leave codes. The city paid 16 city employees for 916 hours of Covid/administrative leave in the first two weeks of September. In the second two weeks, the city paid 22 workers for 1,284.5 hours under that pay code.
Then there’s “suspended with pay,” the category that described Jill Repman for seven and a half years. In September, nine city employees — six police officers and three firefighters — spent time on paid suspension, at a cost of about $41,000.
Two of the firefighters were suspended with pay the entire month, one just for the second pay period.
One Buffalo cop spent a single day on paid suspension. The other five cops were suspended with pay the entire month.
One of those is James Hall, who has been on the police force for 11 years. During that time, Hall has racked up 20 Internal Affairs investigations, five of them involving accidents in a patrol car, according to files Investigative Post obtained from the Buffalo Police Department via a Freedom of Information request in February.
Those documents show Internal Affairs began an investigation into Hall’s “off duty conduct” last October. He was suspended with pay on November 23 of last year, pending the results of that investigation. That was his employment status when Investigative Post received his personnel file in February. It is unclear if his current paid suspension is new or a continuation of the paid suspension that began 11 months ago.
On top of that, Hall has spent about three and half years — nearly a third of his career — on paid duty disability leave, according to records provided by the department.
You wouldn’t learn any of that from the mayor’s biweekly report on paid leave. You wouldn’t know if Hall had been on paid suspension for a day, a week, a month or a year.
“I believe the situation involving [Repman] was and is an isolated case,” Brown is quoted saying in a press release announcing the new paid leave reporting procedures. He said the new procedures would create “a number of safeguards” and would help department heads “to remove employees from paid leave status as soon as possible going forward.”
The next biweekly report of paid leave is due to be completed this week. The city cuts paychecks this Thursday.