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Santa Rosa approves overtime for managers during fire emergency

The operations group meet at the Santa Rosa Emergency Operations Center on Thursday. (photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

KEVIN MCCALLUM,

Santa Rosa approved retroactive overtime payments for nonemergency city managers who are typically exempt from such pay but worked long hours during the city’s fire emergency.

The City Council approved the policy and payments late Tuesday night, following a meeting during which the city’s response to the disaster was widely praised.

“I don’t have any doubt that our employees deserve this,” Mayor Chris Coursey said. “I know how hard our employees have been working the past two weeks.”

About $250,000 in overtime was worked by nonemergency department heads and middle managers during the first two weeks of the disaster, Chief Financial Officer Debbi Lauchner.

The emergency remains in effect, but the amount of overtime related to the fire is dwindling fast, Lauchner said.

City Manager Sean McGlynn and City Attorney Sue Gallagher, whose salaries are set by ordinance, are not eligible for the overtime payments.

Under the policy, managers will receive straight time for hours worked over 40 hours per week during the fire response, not time-and-a-half as is required for hourly employees.

Because the policy was not in place before the fires, however, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is unlikely to reimburse the city for the expenses, said Golbou Ghassemieh, the city’s human resources director.

“To qualify for reimbursement, FEMA requires that the policy be in place and implemented prior to the disaster,” Ghassemieh said.

Neil Bregman, the city’s emergency manager, said he suggested several months ago that such a policy be developed, but such things take time and it wasn’t in place when the fires hit.

“I had said this is something we should look into and do,” Bregman said. “It was moving along at the pace that many things move along at the city.”

Even though the policy wasn’t yet in place, Bregman said he supports employees who worked long hours being compensated for their extra work under the circumstances.

“It just seemed like the right thing to do,” Bregman said.

There are about 165 exempt employees in the city, but it’s not clear how many worked on the fire emergency, Ghassemieh said. Overtime by fire and police managers is dealt with separately under their work contracts, Bregman said.

Lauchner called it a “Herculean task” to ensure the city’s emergency response is fully reimbursed by FEMA.

Managers and middle managers never expected to be paid overtime for their extra work, much of which took place in 12-hour shifts in the city’s Emergency Operations Center, Deputy City Manager Gloria Hurtado said.

“We just have a really incredible staff, and they did this work and all the crazy hours, without any anticipation of any additional compensation,” Hurtado said.

The council asked that McGlynn, who declared the local emergency Oct. 9, decide when to end the overtime policy for the current fire.

The city also temporarily increased the amount of vacation that employees can accrue as a result of the longer hours worked, and passed a disaster leave policy that allows employees to donate accrued leave to some of the 62 employees who lost their homes.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 707-521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @srcitybeat.