By Dave Davis
The Plain Dealer
CLEVELAND — Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson is moving quickly to install time clocks that read fingerprints in all fire stations to ensure that firefighters are actually on the job on the days they are paid to be.
The move follows an internal city audit, released in mid-November, that found some city firefighters collected pay for hours they didn't work, including one man who collected two years of pay while working a total of 11 days. Auditors also found that some firefighters failed to record sick time and violated the city's bereavement policy.
Officials representing Cleveland Fire Fighters Local 93 said late Friday they support the city's decision to install time clocks that read fingerprints.
"The city is still operating under archaic conditions," said Joseph W. Diemert, a lawyer for the union. "To monitor — clock in and clock out — is something that the guys think is wonderful and a good thing to do.
"There are mix-ups and there are slip-ups," Diemert added. "This is something that they could have done long before this and they don't need union approval to do it."
Jackson and Cleveland Finance Director Sharon Dumas met with Plain Dealer editors and reporters Friday to discuss the payroll abuses.
Dumas said the city is looking at a time clock system made by Kronos Inc. It's expected to cost roughly $500,000 and could be installed by early next year, about the same time a second, more in-depth, audit of the Fire Department is out.
At the union, Diemert said firefighters are "100 percent" behind an audit, but would like to see it done by an outside group, such as state or federal officials. Diemert indicated that any problems that might have occurred were mistakes, not deliberate acts of wrongdoing, and he laid the problems squarely at the feet of City Hall, saying the administration's mismanagement of the Fire Department was largely responsible.
"I'm disappointed that the mayor feels firefighters haven't been team players," he added.
Jackson acknowledged that fighting fires is a dangerous job, and that "some people do get hurt." But he indicated that sick time, shift swaps and overtime had been abused.
The mayor was at times critical of firefighters as a group, saying they haven't done enough to help the city through its budget shortfall after it lost $38 million in state funding. He added that the Fire Department busts its budget year after year, while other departments work with what they are given.
"How can I close up rec centers on Saturdays?" Jackson asked. "How can I do layoffs of police officers? How do I tell the lady who cleans our bathrooms... They've got a family, too.
"There's no way in the world, with the problems that we have and the sacrifice that other employees have made, that I'm going to allow them to continue this behavior as if they don't belong to this city," he added. "That's not going to happen."
Jackson promised that those responsible for the abuses would be held accountable. He said administration officials review the Fire Department's payroll data every two weeks, but have struggled to reform the system because union employees handle the scheduling and payroll in dozens of locations.
"It's a controlled union shop," said Jackson, noting that everyone except the top two officials are members.
Dumas said the Fire Department has already exhausted its overtime budget of $5.3 million with two pay periods to go. The department will end this year $1 million to $1.2 million over budget for overtime, she added.
Republished with permission from The Plain Dealer