Audit finds 'exceptionally high' overtime costs at LADOT

City controller Ron Galperin
City controller Ron Galperin
Ben Bergman/KPCC

Overtime payouts at the Los Angeles Department of Transportation are "staggering", according to an audit released by city Controller Ron Galperin today.

An employee at the department's Traffic Paint and Sign section, claimed to work 261 hours in a two-week period, more than 18 hours each day.  Thirty of the 67 employees in the section claimed over 1,000 hours of overtime during the last fiscal year. Seven of them claimed over 2,000 hours of overtime, the equivalent of working 38 hours of overtime every week. 

"One might reasonably conclude that at least some of the employees in the Traffic Paint and Sign section were committing payroll fraud," Galperin wrote. But the audit didn't find sufficient evidence for criminal charges, since time sheets were approved by supervisors and records of employee work don't exist.

One superintendent received $155,319 in overtime last fiscal year, on top of his $78,000 salary.

The audit also notes that once questions about the overtime practices began, overtime claims by high overtime earners shot down about 40%. They've since bounced back up slightly, and remain, the audit says, "exceptionally high".

Department-wide, overtime claims at the LADOT more than doubled in four years:

The audit began after the Controller's Office received a confidential tip alleging abuse in the Traffic Paint and Sign section of the DOT. Traffic and Paint Sign employees collected $3.3 million in overtime during the 2013-2014 fiscal year, at rates far higher than most city departments.

The average Traffic Paint and Sign employee took home $48,100 in overtime during that period. That's six times the $8,377 average for city departments (that number omits the LAPD, LAFD and LADOT).

Staffing levels may play a part: the section has seen its ranks fall by about a fifth since 2010. But the audit says "it did not appear these factors could justify the the Traffic and Paint Sign employees' 263% increase in overtime."

The LADOT also told the Controller's Office that an increased workload, including jobs like street resurfacing and installing bike lanes, were behind the spike in overtime hours.

In a press release, the department's general manager, Seleta Reynolds, said she has reviewed and accepted the audit, and that LADOT has begun to put its recommendations into practice. Those recommendations include simpler, more accurate record-keeping and policies to prevent employees from working more than a set number of hours.

Reynolds joined the LADOT last summer, after the period covered by the audit.