Columbus leaders: End the volunteer overtime system

May 7, 2011 9:49:00 PM



The city of Columbus is halfway through its 2011 fiscal year, and voted this week to nearly double the amount of overtime it pays its police officers -- adding $150,000 to the $200,000 it already had budgeted. 


The lions'' share of this $350,000 goes to a handful of police officers -- the ones who volunteer to work the overtime shifts, with little oversight by Chief Joseph St. John, who frankly should have a better handle on who is working overtime, and when. 


Don''t blame Police Cpl. Donnie Elkin -- a veteran officer who last year was the city''s highest-paid employee, earning more than $35,000 in overtime alone. And don''t blame Lt. Selvain McQueen, who we forecast will be the city''s highest paid employee in 2011. He''s on track to make more than $29,000 in overtime this fiscal year, which ends in September. 


We believe we need every available officer on the streets. Overtime comes with the territory, especially when the department is short-staffed. Taxpayer dollars are well-spent on our police and fire departments. 


However, we believe a handful of officers shouldn''t be doubling their salaries with time-and-a-half overtime pay. Police work is stressful and intense. An officer can''t be expected to be at his best working more than 26 hours of overtime per week -- the average weekly OT that Elkin clocked in 2010. 


The volunteer system in place at the department needs to come to an end. Chief Joseph St. John, who we believe to be a capable crime-fighter, needs to provide more oversight and spread overtime pay more evenly. 


Finally, we question whether local festivals need to either provide their own security, or contract with the police department to pay officers to work security details. The city should look to make better use of its reserve officers in these instances. 


Who should the highest-paid city official be? We think it should be the city''s mayor, or the city''s chief administrator. 


We respect the long hours put in by those officers who are bearing the heaviest burden of policing our city. But with all due respect, the highest-paid city employee shouldn''t be a police corporal. 


The police department isn''t alone in racking up overtime. We believe most city departments should be doing a better job of reigning in overtime pay, and we will continue to analyze and report on different departments, both city and county, in the coming weeks. 


As taxpayers, we expect and deserve the best possible oversight of our tax dollars by our elected and appointed officials.