Ten Chicago city employees made more than $100,000 in overtime last year, most of them more than doubling their salaries even as the city faced a growing financial crisis, newly released records show.
Altogether, Chicago taxpayers spent $240.4 million on employee overtime in 2014 — up 21 percent over the year before and more than three times the overtime paid in 2012, the records show.
Thirty city workers got more than $80,000 in OT last year. They included 12 police officers, eight Department of Water Management employees, four members of the Chicago Fire Department and four workers at the city’s 911 emergency center.
Topping the list was Officer Timothy A. Walter, who made $123,656 above his $86,130 salary.
The $100,000-plus-club also included two 911 police communications operators: Lisa Jamison, who made $113,934 in overtime, and Russell Modjeski, who made $100,598. Her base pay for 2014 was $80,136. His was $66,552. In 2013, Jamison topped the overtime list with $122,088 in extra pay. Modjeski was No. 4, with $99,567 in OT.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has used overtime to rein in hiring and avoid saddling the city with added pension and benefit costs.
That strategy has been most evident in the Chicago Police Department, which accounted for 41.3 percent of city overtime spending last year and has seen two straight years with OT pay in the $100 million range.
The new overtime report was posted by the city after requests from the Chicago Sun-Times for months seeking the data.
In 2012, Emanuel’s first full year in office, City Hall spent $72.5 million on overtime. A year later, the tab had nearly tripled — to $197.6 million.
More than $103 million of the 2013 total went to help bankroll Supt. Garry McCarthy’s “violence-reduction initiative” that flooded violence-plagued “hot spots” with cops working on what normally would be days off. That program accounts for about 40 percent of police overtime expenses, said Anthony Guglielmi, the police department’s communications director.
The overtime tab for 2014 includes $99.3 million paid to a total of 10,237 police officers — 87 of them got more than $50,000 each for overtime.
Walter, the police officer that earned the most overtime, received no extra pay related to McCarthy’s violence-reduction initiative. Walter’s $123,000-plus in overtime “was due to the extension of his shift, resulting from arrests that took place near the time he was due to clock out, and court appearances, which always result in overtime,” Guglielmi said.
For the first three months of 2015, city overtime spending was $65.5 million — down 13 percent over the same period last year.
But the police overtime figures are expected to rise during high-crime summer months. That will include the 12-hour shifts McCarthy ordered over the bloody July 4 weekend to provide a one-third greater police presence citywide.
Police overtime has been a major issue during the past two years of Chicago City Council budget hearings, with the so-called progressive bloc condemning the overtime as “out of control” and pressing unsuccessfully to hire up to 1,000 more police officers.
“Overtime expenditures within the police department provide 31 percent more policing man-hours than hiring a new police officer,” City Hall spokeswoman Molly Poppe said, calling overtime “an effective management tool.”
“The city monitors overtime in every department to ensure it is used cost-effectively,” Poppe said.
Chicago firefighters and paramedics were paid $63.9 million in overtime last year, second only to the police department and topped by since-retired Capt. Gary J. Basile of the dive unit, who made $122,066 on top of his $128,886 salary.
“This individual accepted all of the overtime he was offered,” fire department spokesman Larry Langford said.
This year, nearly two dozen fire department employees — most of them paramedics-in-charge and ambulance commanders — have gotten more than $20,000 in overtime pay in just three months.
Langford said overtime spending has been worsened by the department’s “high number of retirements” in recent years.
“In response, CFD continues to actively fill open vacancies,” he said.
The water management department spent $23.5 million on overtime last year. Spokesman Peter Scales blamed Mother Nature.
“The city had one of the coldest winters on record in early 2014,” Scales said. “The necessary emergency repairs in response to severe winter weather, along with overtime related to management of the water purification plants, were responsible for DWM’s overtime expenditures.”
During the first quarter of this year, water management overtime is down 37 percent, in part because the department has filled 15 job vacancies, Scales said.
Overtime has been high for years at Chicago’s 911 call center, including $10 million spent last year.
“It is impossible to budget for increased call volume due to severe weather,” said Melissa Stratton, spokeswoman for the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications. “OEMC holds people over to ensure that we are providing the best possible service to our residents. This is more efficient and lower cost than hiring staff to fill spike periods.”
The president of an organization representing thousands of city workers said they shouldn’t be blamed for the city’s overtime tab.
“The finger-pointing should not be at us but at the administration that made the decision to manage your tax money poorly” by understaffing city departments, said Jeff Johnson, a city emergency services dispatcher who heads the Municipal Employees Society of Chicago.
Until last week, the Emanuel administration had publicly posted overtime figures only through the first quarter of 2014. Now, it has released a year’s worth of data after the Sun-Times appealed to the Illinois attorney general’s office. The delay in posting was caused in part by City Hall deciding to withhold names of police officers who work under cover but still list their overtime pay.
“It is the administration’s goal to post the numbers on a more regular basis in the future,” Poppe said.