SALINAS, Calif. (KION-TV)- Chief law enforcement in Monterey County receives thousands of dollars in overtime through an "Extra-compensation" policy following the January winter storms
January's winter storms threatened to leave the peninsula cut off, like an island. Already twice in 2023, Monterey County has had to declare local emergencies.
On January 5, Monterey County's Director of Human Resources, Irma Ramirez Bough, sent this email to department heads. It states that 'exempt pay employees or salaried employees qualified for "extra compensation" under a personnel policy resolution created in 2019.
Under the resolution, overtime is allowed for salaried employees in the event of a local emergency.
During the Camp Fire. The resolution was updated to allow first responders providing mutual aid to Butte County to accrue overtime.
However, the policy may have unintentionally resulted in those with already impressive salaries receiving more of your tax money.
Payroll records show that $65 thousand in taxpayer-funded overtime was paid to Monterey County Sheriff's Office staff.
During the January winter storms, Sheriff Tina Nieto and the Department of Emergency Management served as incident commanders.
Payroll records show 11 staff members within the Sheriff's Office Management Team, were paid $65 thousand in overtime for January of 2023.
The Sheriff's overtime, alone, resulted in just over $9 thousand for that month.Does Sheriff Nieto deserve $9,000 in overtime?
“I can tell you as your sheriff I’m always there to listen and answer any of your questions,” said Sheriff Tina Nieto at a news conference in Pajaro with Governor Newsom.
KION asked Sheriff Nieto about the overtime she received.
"What I can say from the Sheriff's Office is we asked 'who does this apply to?' we were given and we were given an answer. It applies to, whatever group of people, and we filled out the paperwork accordingly from our office," said Nieto.
We reached out to the County and were declined an interview.
KION did receive a statement from the County clarifying how the County Administrative Officer determines the overtime policy implementation.
We're told exempt employees, although eligible, may choose not to request compensation for the extra hours worked.
After our inquiries, it appears that the resolution was never designed for executive management. Still, Sheriff Nieto says she is unapologetic for following the directions given by the county and accepting the overtime pay.
“Here's what I'm going to say to people. It would be unethical for the Sheriff to decide 'I'm going to make up my own rule when it comes to payroll. There is what they call FSLA, it's the fair standards labor act. you have to follow certain rules for your pay role staff,” added Nieto.
KION reporter Veronica Macias asked, “What about those people who would say, 'well it's their job, they shouldn't get overtime because they’re already making a good amount of money. It's their job?" Somedays they'll work six hours not eight?”
The sheriff says her term in office has been a whirlwind and she never gets to work six hours.
“The reason certain rules like this come out during certain major disasters during FEMA events, during wildfires, there’s no such thing under FSLA - what you call white time. I don't normally get six-hour days,” Nieto adds. “I’ve had five days office since I've been sworn in... I mean like real days off... like the whole day. (butted) Now could I be a sheriff who decided I'm not going to be here - but is that the ethical thing to do... I don't think so.”
There hasn't been another department head to take overtime pay from the county since the provision was added. Not even during the River or Carmel Fires of 2020.
However, there was a difference - the fires were incidents being controlled by CAL FIRE, the Sheriff's Office, and the Department of Emergency Management.
“I don’t see it as being unethical. It’s like, why are you getting paid overtime for work you did because again, the question was asked, this wasn’t anything done, like, hey we’re just going to throw this in and hopefully keep fingers crossed. People elected me because they want a Sheriff that follows the rules.”
Those rules are now being changed.
Monterey County Supervisors amended the overtime policy on Tuesday, March 21.
The new policy was amended to exclude elected officials and reads, "the county administrative officer or authorized designee may direct that compensation be paid for extra hours worked, but not including elected officials or employees in unity."
After KION began questioning the policy, we learned emails show there were new notices dated March 11 addressed to department heads. It said: "pay for exempt employees has not been authorized by the county administrator at this time. But they may be eligible for administrative leave.