City Hall performance-pay investigation continues (updated)

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Remember back in early March, when the Chronicle Editorial LiveJournalists argued that there was nothing to see, and that it was time to move on from the City Hall bonus scandal?

Here’s an excerpt from their editorial:

The district attorney is deciding whether to charge the four city employees. With both Mayor White and Councilwoman Alvarado providing full cooperation, the investigation of City Hall’s bonusgate should be quickly put behind us.

Thankfully, nobody pays much attention to the Editorial LiveJournalists, certainly not the Chronicle‘s City Hall reporters, other local journalists, or local law enforcement. And so, following a March 24 story by Chronicle reporters Matt Stiles and Alexis Grant that analyzed HPD’s odd bonus program for its mechanics, it appears that city officials AND the Harris County District Attorney’s office are looking into the HPD bonus program.

KPRC-2 posts the following AP dispatch:

City Controller Annise Parker believes the department needs to review the plan.

“It shouldn’t be a supervisor getting a bonus because his subordinate hits a target. It should be a supervisor getting a bonus because he exceeds his job,” she said.

[snip]

Parker said the payments create the appearance that bosses give subordinates extra pay in an effort to increase their own.

With almost all mechanics earning incentive pay, Parker said the bar is set too low and the program’s performance standards need to be completely re-evaluated.

Police commanders are also reviewing the program.

Executive Assistant Chief Martha Montalvo said police managers are sometimes eligible for incentives, but she isn’t sure whether that should be the case for those in the fleet program.

“I don’t think there was anything illegal about it. Would I like to make changes to it? Of course,” she said.

But Montalvo said the program is worth the money because the average number of marked police vehicles available has increased about 5 percent since 2002. The productivity also has allowed the mechanics to work on other departments’ vehicles.

Support staffers, such as inventory clerks, car attendants and administrative assistants, also get commissions if the mechanics beat expectations.

[snip]

Mayor Bill White has ordered a review of all the city’s incentive pay plans but has defended them in general, saying, “Modern, successful organizations pay for performance.”

Matt Stiles and Alexis Grant followed up on their original story:

Payroll records show that at least 12 fleet supervisors received extra pay under the police program. The bonuses were similar to those of the mechanics, who got more than $1 million since 2004 for speedy repair jobs. One of those mechanics earned more than $95,000 in extra pay, the Chronicle reported last month.

The fleet supervisor who received the most incentive pay was a shop manager. He got $47,000 extra during the period examined by the Chronicle. The division’s second-highest ranking supervisor, who is responsible for administering the overall fleet-incentives program, got $32,000. Four other supervisors received more than $30,000 each, records show.

[snip]

Support staffers, such as inventory clerks, car attendants and administrative assistants, receive commissions if the mechanics beat expectations. Supervisors also get bonuses, depending on how well their mechanics perform, said Lt. Robert Manzo, a department spokesman.

Almost all the mechanics earned incentive pay. At least 34 of them were paid more than $10,000 since 2004, records show.

The number of mechanics receiving bonuses, Parker said, suggests that the bar is set too low.

“They need to completely re-evaluate what the performance standard is and base it not on some national average for people across the industry, but for mechanics in their shop who are doing jobs on the same cars over and over again,” Parker said.

[snip]

Police officials declined requests for interviews with the incentive-pay recipients. They have not provided documentation showing that former Chief C.O. Bradford, who ran the force when the bonuses began as a pilot program in late 2002, signed off on the idea. Bradford could not be reached for comment.

“What I’ve been told is that the program was approved. I have not been able to find documents with signatures,” Montalvo said, adding that officials in the city’s Human Resources and Finance and Administration departments also searched without success.

It wasn’t hard to guess that the Lee Brown/Clarence Bradford Reign of Error would come into play at some point.

It will be interesting to see what other matters come to light, as journalists and law-enforcement officials continue to investigate the matter (and to ignore the hapless Chronicle Editorial LiveJournalists, who really ought to take their own bizarre Easter advice and go on a pilgrimage — preferably a LONG one).

UPDATE (04-18-2006): I’ve made a few minor edits above for clarity, in response to points raised by Matt Stiles in the comments.

UPDATE 2 (04-18-2006): Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal informs us that his office is not looking into the HPD mechanics’ performance pay, and that reports to the contrary are erroneous.


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