Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Jail-Break Testimony: Mismanagement Fueled Staffing Woes

Posted By on Tue, Oct 25, 2011 at 8:20 AM

St. Louis City Justice Center
  • St. Louis City Justice Center
The way Director of Personnel Richard Frank painted it in his testimony at Monday's jail break hearing, the corrections division is a staffing mess, frantically scrambling each day to fill the necessary posts. That's because of an interconnected set of factors that together stretched the division dangerously thin.

Consequently, corrections employees were often forced to work excessive amounts of overtime, which is paid time-and-a-half. This wore them out physically, pounded away at the city budget, and inevitably created a vicious cycle of vacancies.

And -- the incredible irony -- it was all those overtime hours worked because of vacancies that used up the money that would have went into filling those vacancies.

Here's how it all happened, according to Frank:

First of all, up to 60 percent of corrections employees have used family medical leave, which is double what other departments might experience. Family medical leave is supposed to be reserved for emergencies. All requests must be reviewed before they are granted. But, under Commissioner Gene Stubblefield, there was no centralized review process, said Frank, and often employees would just tell a supervisor or coworker they were going on family medical leave, sometimes even retroactively.

Numerous staff vacancies compounded the problem. Frank described an August 3 meeting with city officials at which he asserted that the mayor's office slowed down the corrections hiring process by ordering that Director of Operations Sam Dotson review each new hire. Twenty-eight correctional officer posts had been held open for more than six months, he said. Yet they were only processed after Frank found out that they hadn't yet been filled through an email from Stubblefield to Director of Public Safety Charles Bryson.These vacancies were in addition to the managerial posts that had already been eliminated.

Making matters worse, Frank noted, the corrections division maintained harsh penalties for employees, including when they failed to work the overtime assigned to them. Sometimes, he said, an employee would learn that he or she had to work overtime at the last minute and leave anyway because of prior obligations, which would lead to a suspension.

Family leave plus staff vacancies plus suspensions meant that the division was consistently working with a needlessly small pool of active workers. And in jail house work, obviously, an absent employee must be replaced on the job.

Under their union contract, the corrections employees are not allowed to work more than twelve hours in a single day or more than eight total overtime hours in a week. According to Frank, though, they would sometimes work consecutive 16-hour days, up to 90 hours a week in some cases.

Dotson also testified Monday, and the aldermen grilled him on the vacancies. He deflected a few questions about the decision to eliminate three of the five unit manager positions at the City Justice Center, saying it happened before he took the director of operations job in May.

The Aldermen cited an April 26 Ways and Means Committee meeting when the corrections division requested money for 24 new hires. The committee granted twelve and sliced $100,000 from the Medium Security Institute overtime fund, so that the division would have to clean up its attendance issues to afford the hires. But on June 10, the committee restored $55,000 to the MSI budget and $125,000 to the Justice Center budget anyway. The positions still weren't filled though. When the final budget was approved, the twelve posts were recommended for elimination for financial reasons by, according to released memos, Bryson. Dotson told the aldermen that corrections was "overspending overtime and underspending salary."

Alderman Anotonio French asked Dotson if he or anyone in the administration had asked/ordered Bryson to make the cuts.

Dotson asserted that, in fact, he directed Bryson and Stubblefield to fill the correctional officer positions as soon as possible "in every conversation" he had with them. He defended placing Stubblefield on forced leave, saying, "It was not a single thing. It was an assessment of the totality of all the issues corrections was facing."

French asked him if he saw any errors by Bryson. At first, Dotson provided a long-winded response about how people in managerial oversight roles rely on experts to help them make decisions but that things could have been managed better.

"Is that a yes?" asked French.

"Absolutely," said Dotson.

Stubblefield has some company down the stream from the bridge.

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