Cortland mayor, city dispute findings in Department of Labor report

CORTLAND, N.Y. – City officials are challenging the findings of a U.S. Department of Labor investigation, which showed the city owed hundreds of thousands of dollars to 89 of its employees.

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The report, which first came to light at a meeting of Common Council earlier this month, showed that the city owed $295,000 in compensatory time and back wages to employees in the city’s fire department, police department and youth bureau division.

Derek Reynolds, president of the Cortland Professional Firefighters Association, filed a FOIA request with the U.S. Department of Labor and presented the findings to Mayor Brian Tobin and members of Common Council earlier this month.

When asked about the report, Tobin says the city exceeded the amount of compensatory time that the city is allowed to pay some of its employees.

He said the city paid employees based on policies and procedures that had been negotiated with labor unions but were not in compliance with federal labor regulations.

"When we sat down with labor unions over the years, there's things in the contracts that both sides agreed to that didn't comply with federal law," Tobin said in a phone interview last week.

Tobin says the city is "accounting for every penny" that is mentioned in the report.

City makes its case

At a meeting of Common Council Tuesday night, the city’s director of administration and finance, Mack Cook, laid out several discrepancies in the Department of Labor’s findings as well as reasons for why city and federal officials disagree on some aspects of the report.

The 89 employees cited in the DOL’s findings fall into three different departments: police, fire, and the youth bureau. Cook says 11 of those employees should not be included in the findings because some of them have been properly compensated while others, such as those in administrative positions, should have not been included in the report.

A page from the U.S. Department of Labor's findings

A page from the U.S. Department of Labor's report

The DOL alleges that some city employees were accruing comp time in excess of the limitations set forth in federal regulations.

Cook says the extra comp time is actually a benefit to firefighters and police officers because they can use the accrued comp time to take time off, rather than using vacation days or sick days.

“Comp time is extremely valuable. That’s why we fought for over 6 months protecting the city’s right to accrue comp time, and that’s what brought down the $500,000 number down to where we are now,” Cook said Tuesday.

Cook also argued that by paying out the money the DOL says is owed, employees would lose the benefit of accruing comp time.

“When you play out the entire chess game, our employees would be dramatically hurt because they would lose the benefits, which would become preempted by federal law.”

The city is also challenging the $295,000 assessment put out by the Department of Labor.

Mayor Tobin said initially, the department said the city owed employees more than $500,000, a number that was later reduced.

Cook also dismissed any implication that there were accounting or bookkeeping errors on the part of the city administration.

Mayor criticizes political candidate

Tobin said Reynolds, who brought the Department of Labor’s findings to Common Council earlier this month, acted improperly by presenting the findings in a public forum and not going through the proper channels of city administration.

“Leaving the chain of command, I think, is a serious breach of etiquette,” Tobin said.

In a phone interview Wednesday morning, Reynolds said he alerted Fire Chief Charles Glover to the Department of Labor’s report, who then notified the city.

“I have no regrets on how it was brought up,” Reynolds added. “This is an issue that’s been lingering on for two years now, and the fact that it’s being addressed now shows it’s obviously a concern.”

Reynolds is a city firefighter who is also running for a seat on the Cortland County Legislature. He lost to Amy Cobb in a Democratic primary vote last month but is still running as an independent candidate.

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