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Apr 1, 2013 2:15 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Auditors Say Southampton Police Department Compensation System Is Easily Abused

Apr 3, 2013 11:25 AM

An auditor told the Southampton Town Board last week that an examination of the system for tracking accrued time off for Southampton Town Police officers showed that the town’s current policy is seriously flawed—lacking proper protocols and cross-checking procedures—and could lead to abuses.

The auditor, Don Hoffmann of the accounting firm Cullen & Danowski, told the board during a work session last Thursday, March 28, that new protocols need to be put in place to ensure that the system for tracking the days officers are at work and their sick days and vacation days is sound and accountable. He said such information should be logged and tracked in the human resources offices at Town Hall, rather than in the Town Police Department headquarters itself, as it is now.

“We believe you should make some changes in terms of documentation policies,” Mr. Hoffman said. “There is some documentation missing.”

The accountant said, however, that there is no evidence that any of the payouts for time owed to retiring officers in recent years—more than $1.5 million in 2011 and 2012 alone—were above what the officers who received them were contractually due.

Thanks to two waves of retirements of senior officers in recent years, the town shelled out some $560,870 in exit payments in 2011 and $949,352 in 2012, according to Town Comptroller Leonard Marchese. The town has also paid out more than $412,000 to retiring officers already in 2013.

Tracking accruals can be complicated because over time various contracts with police unions have allowed varying levels of accrued time payouts. Most officers now are not allowed to carry over any of their annual allotted vacation time from year to year, without specific permission from the department chief. But in recent contracts, officers also receive approximately two dozen sick days per year, which may be carried over year after year if not used. Many older contracts allowed officers to accrue up to 300 sick days throughout their career, while more recent contracts cap the accrual at 200 days.

When an officer retires, he or she is paid for those unused sick days, prorated according to his or her salary in their final year on the job—typically a higher pay rate than when the sick days were collected. A sick day that went unused by a rookie officer earning $45,000 per year, for example, can be carried over and paid by the town at a rate commensurate to the salary of a retiring veteran, who typically earns upward of $125,000 per year.

Despite such generous benefits—or perhaps because of them—town officials have acknowledged in the past that there have been abuses of the system.

“I saw evidence of abuses by officers in the department when I got there,” former Police Chief William Wilson said this week. “Sick time is what has the most value contractually when you’re talking about separation pay at the end of your career, and the antiquated system they have over there is easy to abuse. A sheet is posted on a wall … and anyone can just adjust it themselves if they want.”

Mr. Hoffman on Thursday recommended that the board review the contracts with the police department’s unions, codify what the contracts allow in annual accruals for each officer, and set up a detailed, independent accounting system that closely monitors officers’ attendance and logs use of sick and vacation days.

He noted that, in some instances, the current system leaves supervisory officers in charge of tracking sick and vacation time accruals to log their own time-off use. There should be, at least, a double-check of such entries by another person, Mr. Hoffmann told board members.

Town Management Services Administrator Russell Kratoville noted that Mr. Wilson had begun instituting changes in the time-off logging system early in his tenure at the department, and that current Police Chief Robert Pearce has drafted a formal order to his officers employing some of the recommendations in the auditors’ report.

“Back in 2011, when Chief Wilson came in, we had discussions about changes to some of the practices of communication between the police department and [Human Resources], to put in some better safeguards,” Mr. Kratoville said. “Records are still kept and maintained solely within the police department … but the process has begun.”

Nearly from the day he took over the department, Mr. Wilson began pressing the Town Board to fund a $700,000 information technology system upgrade for the department that would have, among a host of other things, made tracking attendance by officers and accrued sick time more regimented and accountable. The request ultimately led to the first skirmishes in what would become a prolonged battle between the chief and members of the board during his rocky 18-month tenure with the department.

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“We believe you should make some changes in terms of documentation policies,” Mr. Hoffman said. “There is some documentation missing.”...Maybe its that other location where they kept the evidence seized from the "street crime unit"...And how is the overtime accounted for again?
By V.Tomanoku (790), southampton on Apr 1, 13 3:30 PM
More cracks in The Blue Wall of Silence.

It is time for the Town Board and Supervisor to get public on this "real mess" per the Press's editorial.

Rest in Peace, Sister Walsh.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Apr 1, 13 4:01 PM
The overtime was accrued looking for the missing evidence. More overtime will be needed to find the missing documention.
By goldenrod (505), southampton on Apr 1, 13 4:04 PM
2 members liked this comment
Aahhhhh! Wilson found a problem with record keeping of time off. Was that the "lack of judgment" Malone was talking about? A second grader could tell you that people being in charge of their own time off is a BAD idea. Human nature always comes into play along with greed and stupidity. What a shame they ran Wilson out of town, he was actually trying to clean up the mess that was 22+ years in the making. Guess his honesty and knowledge of how a police department should be run intimidated the majority ...more
By sunnydays (43), Hampton Bays on Apr 1, 13 4:24 PM
4 members liked this comment
“As to what we needed to do to address whatever issues there were that have led to this, I’ve got three words for you: Chief Robert Pearce,” Mr. Malone said. - 'UPDATE: Top Cops Dispute Charges That Street Crime Unit Office Was Strewn With Drugs' 3/13/13
By OU812 (161), East Quogue on Apr 1, 13 9:35 PM
Who is to decide what a "significant" discrepancy is with our taxpayer money? According to prior articles it is at least $44,000 in 2011 alone and if the DA's are investigating it I would assume there is a belief of criminal activity, not just simple mistakes.

"Mr. Hoffmann said that the audit did not find evidence of significant discrepancies in the amount of money paid to officers from what they were rightfully due. He did not say if any discrepancies were found, or how large they were." ...more
By OU812 (161), East Quogue on Apr 1, 13 9:33 PM
And it looks more and more that the town board handed the chicken coop over to the fox. It appears that Chief Wilson kept uncovering corruption and the town board did everything they could to get rid of him. 27east, please keep following up as it seems the press is the only way we will find out the truth!

"The documents also included three felony charges and a misdemeanor charge prepared by former Chief William Wilson Jr. in 2012 against a police lieutenant, James Kiernan, for allegedly ...more
By OU812 (161), East Quogue on Apr 1, 13 9:50 PM
2 members liked this comment
double checks are a bad idea... now we will have 2 or more cops lying instead of just 1.
By littleplains (305), olde england on Apr 2, 13 7:31 AM
1 member liked this comment
So yet again here's another article of supervisory officers milking the system what a shocker. These bosses are giving a bad name to the hard working men and women who show up at our houses when we dial 911. There needs to be a cleaning of the "house" from sgt to chief and all of the town board. This is just getting ridiculous now
By mrobin (121), North Sea on Apr 3, 13 8:15 AM
This very well might be the most interesting article yet. Here is what I took from it: ATH states that there were unwritten policies which she was told about by administration of pd which entitled departing officers more money than contractually agreed upon. So why set up limitations within a contract and why is she allowing pd members to set their own terms of employment? Who is in charge here? Who is looking out for the taxpayer? This is outrageous! Pay an auditing firm to come in for thousands ...more
By sunnydays (43), Hampton Bays on Apr 3, 13 11:49 AM
2 members liked this comment
I would also like to know what other unwritten policies the town has? That they don't promote women? That they cover up corruption? What exactly is an unwritten policy?
By sunnydays (43), Hampton Bays on Apr 3, 13 11:58 AM
Now you have found the pulse.

A sad state of affairs how much appears to have been done behind closed doors -- for many decades IMO.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Apr 3, 13 12:30 PM
1 member liked this comment
It appears that the Feds have their hands full dealing with political corruption across all of LI. I wonder if anyone on Southampton Town board will make the cut on a news spread of disgraced NY politicians? Wait until the public finds out the names of those in the police department that filled their pockets on OT during super storm Sandy - which was funded by the federal govt. Same names folks. If they can lie to internal affairs, then what's to stop them from lying on a time card. Demand resignations.
By Geppetto (59), Southampton on Apr 3, 13 12:37 PM
1 member liked this comment
What the, huh? Unwritten policies for pay? Aren't contracts supposed to lay out the conditions for employment and compensation... how the heck are there "unwritten policies", who makes them and what kind of attorney's do we have representing Southampton Town that would allow this to happen!

"Ms. Throne-Holst also acknowledged... The discrepancies the administrators found, she said, were due mainly to some unwritten but long understood policies for accruing sick days and other time off compensation ...more
By OU812 (161), East Quogue on Apr 3, 13 2:26 PM
"fairly common throughout law enforcement agencies"

Yup, there is that Blue Wall of Silence again.

Now let's see who pops up to justify it . . .
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Apr 3, 13 2:32 PM
Blue wall of silence aside, if it is really common then cite examples. I highly doubt that other municipalities pay out on "unwritten policies" without being forced to by litigation. I also highly doubt a court would enforce a verbal contract that only one party has knowledge of - ie the top brassholes that are taking us to the cleaners.

"The lax controls on the accrual system apparently led to the town overpaying five retiring officers more than $44,000 in compensation for unused accrued ...more
By OU812 (161), East Quogue on Apr 3, 13 2:39 PM
Hey ATH, I forgot the remind you of this little "unwritten policy" the town has had for decades. Every time one of our elected officials support corruption or lie to the press our property taxes get cut in half.
No really, it's true. Scouts honor! Now get calculating because this current board alone gets us some great rebates!
By OU812 (161), East Quogue on Apr 3, 13 2:35 PM
"Ms. Throne-Holst said. “Not that we’re suggesting that there was anything amiss, but it just seemed odd that we paid out something without being part and parcel to how it was calculated."
By OU812 (161), East Quogue on Apr 3, 13 2:52 PM
ATH speaks and not one local paper covers it. It is reported that the town will look into hiring an outside consulting company to review the troubled police department. Sounds just like the Bracewell & Giuliani investigation that only provided a verbal report so that the findings would not be able to be FOILed or transparent. They are looking to spend our money on false prophets once again. Sickening.
By Geppetto (59), Southampton on Apr 5, 13 9:23 AM
"Throne-Holst said Thursday morning in a radio interview that she expected the hiring of the outside company to be considered at Tuesday's regular board meeting. But after a closed town board executive session in the afternoon, she said a contract with a company would be considered later this month as officials determine the scope of the review and credentials of possible applicants.
"This would be looking at the inner workings of the police department, the policies and procedures, [and] some ...more
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Apr 5, 13 9:37 AM

I read the article. It is like me selling you my car and having my mechanic there to tell you that the vehicle runs excellent and has no mechanical flaws. Want to but a car PBR?
By Geppetto (59), Southampton on Apr 5, 13 11:34 AM
Sure, especially if your mechanic says it is a good deal . . . (However, I would rather "buy" the car than "but" it!)

All joking aside, your points are well taken. I have long advocated for an independent federal or state special prosecutor, or grand jury, to tackle this "real mess" to quote the Press's editorial a few weeks ago. Hopefully the US Attorney's investigation will cast a wide net, but one's faith runs thin here in many respects.

PS -- I posted the quoted text above ...more
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Apr 5, 13 12:30 PM
The accountant said, however, that there is no evidence that any of the payouts for time owed to retiring officers in recent years—more than $1.5 million in 2011 and 2012 alone—were above what the officers who received them were contractually due.

So what am I missing here? Administrative practices that need to be tightened up. And if someone is being paid for something that the town is not contractually obligated to pay, sounds like the someone in charge at Town Hall is dropping ...more
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Apr 5, 13 11:48 AM
"The lax controls on the accrual system apparently led to the town overpaying five retiring officers more than $44,000 in compensation for unused accrued time off last year." - '‘Troubling’ Practices Subject Of D.A.’s Probe' 11/29/12
By OU812 (161), East Quogue on Apr 5, 13 12:31 PM
Lots of balls dropped by lots of people over lots of years IMO. Too many foxes guarding too many hen houses!

If the Town Board thinks that this recent smoke-screen (of an independent investigation) is going to calm the public down, they are sadly mistaken.

The measure will not even be considered until later this month, plus postponements for fine-tuning, then months for an investigation, then months to write the report, and we are past the November election easily.

"No ...more
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Apr 5, 13 12:38 PM
I saw that, but it appears as though what was "apparently" in Nov or 2012 did not prove to be true under this report.
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Apr 5, 13 12:36 PM
Put them all under oath, as soon as possible, in a federal grand jury, from the Supervisor all the way down to the file clerks at the SHT PD.

"Tear Down That Wall, Mr. Gorbachev!"
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Apr 5, 13 12:41 PM
New article out.

By PBR (4956), Southampton on Apr 5, 13 3:24 PM
Not for nothing but the definition of an auditor is someone who comes in after the battle is over and shoots the wounded. statement here is that "it could lead to abuses". Until you actually find something it seems to me just someone is pointing out just change the way it's being
done. End of story.
By Sandflea (35), Southampton on Apr 9, 13 11:51 AM
1 member liked this comment
Well, look into this a little more - the newspaper that rhymes with Tuesday reveals that the town board did not hire them to conduct a true audit and set limited parameters for them to review - i.e. see enough to make a good report. Even so there were problems found.

""We found several minor incorrect payments, and the Department was unable to provide documentation for amounts paid for carry-forward vacation," it said.
But the review also acknowledged the scope was limited.
"We ...more
By OU812 (161), East Quogue on Apr 10, 13 1:33 PM