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New Wayne Twp. fire chief pledges change to payroll after WRTV investigation found thousands in overtime

Lingering questions over administration getting paid for OT
Posted at 4:00 PM, Jun 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-20 22:22:27-04

INDIANAPOLIS — The Wayne Township Fire Department’s new chief is making changes following questions from WRTV Investigates about overtime costs and pay for administration.

Newly appointed fire chief Mike Lang said he plans to address administration receiving overtime, as well as the department’s “confusing” payroll system.

Administration charged hundreds of hours in overtime in 2019 and 2020, records show

WRTV Investigates found the former chief and his administration charged taxpayers for hundreds of hours of overtime despite their six-figure salaries.

Even with a pandemic, the men and women of the Wayne Township fire department have been putting out fires and saving lives— and in 2020, that meant $2 million in overtime for the department, about 5% of which was for administrative staff.

What’s raising eyebrows is the 5% of overtime for the fire department’s administration, which is something so unusual WRTV Investigates could not find another fire department in Indiana with such a practice.

WRTV Investigates found former fire chief Randy Adams and his two deputy chiefs racked up 1,358 hours of overtime in 2019 and 2020 for a total of $113,290.

WRTV Investigates Kara Kenney: “What do you say to taxpayers who say that's not a good use of their money?”
Adams: “I'd say I disagree. Fair and equitable compensation should be across the board, starting at the top all the way down.”

READ | Wayne Township Fire Dept. administration takes heat over overtime

WRTV reviewed hundreds of pages of records and found Adams and his two deputy chiefs charged taxpayers 791 overtime hours in 2020, including attending meetings at the administration building before 8 am, after 4 pm, and on weekends.

They also charged overtime for travel to places like South Dakota and North Carolina, including to inspect fire trucks. Records show Adams’ total compensation in 2020 was $190,345.

Deputy Chief of Administration Mike Lang’s total compensation in 2020 was $151,766 while Deputy Chief of Operations Stuart Sharp received $154,449 in total compensation last year.

"We had a pandemic,” said Adams. “We had stuff going on to keep progress going. With COVID we had 15,000 staffing hours lost due to COVID, and that's not counting regular workman's comp or sick time.”

But WRTV counted 567 of overtime for Adams, Lang, and Sharp in 2019 as well, before COVID-19.

WRTV: “Some are going to say that is why you already make a six-figure salary, so you don't have to charge overtime and that you already do make a fair salary.”
Adams: “That's a good question. It’s the way the system is set up right now. We aren’t salary exempt. We are eligible to get the overtime.”

Adams said he and his administration are hourly, and his interpretation of the union contract and rules and regulations is that the Wayne Township Fire Department’s administration can get overtime.

But Adams is retired as of May 21, and he says it’s now up to the township trustee and the newly appointed fire chief Mike Lang.

Township trustee, new chief vow to make changes

WRTV Investigates sat down with the new fire chief, Mike Lang, to talk about administration receiving overtime.

Lang had $14,445 in overtime last year on top of his six-figure salary of $129,807, records show.

Lang: “We spent a lot of time making sure our people were safe and all our shifts were covered, and we did work outside of our normal work hours quite a bit. "
WRTV: “Do you agree that this is COVID-related?
Lang: “In 2019, it was more meetings and travel. 2020 would probably be more COVID related because there was less opportunities to travel for education."
WRTV: “Do you plan to continue this practice of overtime?”
Lang: “We are going to certainly re-evaluate our rules and regulations. Our current (union) contract, we are literally getting ready to start negotiations and this is certainly one of the topics we are going to discuss during the contract negotiation process.”

Chuck Jones, elected township trustee in Wayne Township, agrees they need to examine the administration overtime issue.

WRTV: “When you learned there's no other fire department in the state that does it this way, was that a concern to you?”
Jones: “That was alarming. I hadn't heard that before. We are going to figure out a way to do it in a different manner so we can get that addressed. We are going to take a look at it, and see what changes need to be made."

Very muddy”: Collateral pay among the changes in store for new chief

One of the changes Lang plans to make will be how the department distributes collateral pay.

Collateral pay is a pot of money in the budget, $344,408 in 2020, that the fire chief can allocate to fire department employees.

WRTV Investigates found a lot of variation in who gets what in terms of collateral pay.

Records obtained by WRTV Investigates show some firefighters received $1,000 in collateral pay, while others received tens of thousands of dollars, as high as $42,353 in collateral pay for the director of EMS.

Tina Benson, whose title last year was administrative assistant, received $38,963 in collateral pay for total compensation in 2020 of $127,285.

WRTV Investigates requested a set of criteria for distributing collateral pay, but it doesn’t exist.

Adams said Tina Benson took on additional duties, including payroll.

Adams: “I chose to elevate her up to a division chief pay. She has a base salary like we all do. And the collateral pay is at my discretion. That’s why her pay is on level with the division chief. "
WRTV: “Collateral pay is at your discretion?”
Adams: “Staying within budget. Yes, it’s very broad. It gives me the discretion to put anybody in my administration whether they’re civilian or merit.”
Adams paid himself $32,305 in collateral pay last year, records show.
WRTV: “Why pay yourself collateral pay?”
Adams: “Well that’s the basis of the fire chief’s pay. We start at the battalion chief’s pay and then add to it.”
WRTV: “Is there anyone who has to say OK yes or no?”
Adams: “No, there's not. My boss the trustee would have an issue if it's a budget breaker."

Adams said the fire department underspent its $39 million budget by $5 million.

Newly appointed chief Mike Lang says he plans to do things differently.

"I absolutely don't want to be the person that sets my own salary,” said Lang. “That needs to definitely be approved by the trustee or the board regardless of how that transpires."

Lang, when he served as Deputy Chief of Administration, got paid a total of $151,766 last year, $22,305 of which was collateral pay.

Lang said the practice of using collateral pay started around 2008.

“The only explanation I could really get is they used collateral to compensate for people that were working outside of their merit rank,” said Lang.

It’s varied by chief how collateral pay is documented and disbursed.

"Collateral pay was very complicated to me,” said Lang. “Very muddy. I didn't understand it."

Lang said he will work to establish a better explanation of how collateral pay can be used.

"That is certainly something that now that I have more influence I'll be working to clean up,” said Lang. “I don't think that should be so broad on me, or individuals. Collateral should be more transparent."

The Wayne Township Fire Department’s payroll is so complicated, it took months for WRTV Investigates to sort through.

"We've made it confusing,” said Lang. “It literally takes three days to do payroll."

Lang said he also plans to address the department’s payroll system as well.

As questions linger about pay, Lang said he will work to ensure taxpayer money is spent the best way.

"That's a very big portion of our responsibility is managing the taxpayer money,” said Lang. “I would place that as a very high emphasis on priorities."

MORE INFO | Fire administration in Wayne Township in hot water over overtime pay

How to file a complaint regarding your overtime

If you have a concern about your own pay or overtime at your employer you can file a claim here with the Indiana Department of Labor.

The Indiana Department of Labor can help resolve disputes between employees and employers.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Indiana Minimum Wage Law require companies to pay workers 1½ times their regular rate of pay when employees work more than 40 hours during a workweek.

However, there are exceptions to the overtime pay requirements of both federal and state law.

Most of the exceptions to Indiana state law can be found here.

If you have questions, contact the U.S. Department of Labor at (317) 226-6801 or the Indiana Department of Labor at (317) 232-2655.