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Zurik: Records show Kenner city employees paid for more than 24 hours a day of work following Ida

Published: Dec. 23, 2021 at 9:59 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The city of Kenner has turned over payroll records after a Jefferson Parish judge ordered them to do so in a timely manner.

FOX 8 has been waiting for the records for months.

The pay stubs show one of Mayor Ben Zahn’s Deputy Chief Administration Officers received a large increase in pay since Hurricane Ida.

Zahn has been paying some employees disaster pay and crediting those same employees with comp time that they can be paid for later.

The records received show Deputy CAO Chad Pitfield regularly makes about $140,000 annually... until this year.

Since the storm, Kenner paid Pitfield, a salaried employee, an extra $60,000 in disaster pay. By the year’s end, Pitfield stands to make close to $60,000 more than his normal annual salary.

The records Kenner did not want to hand over raise serious questions.

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Over any given pay period of 14 days, there is a maximum of 336 work hours. That’s if you worked 24 hours a day for all 14 days.

Over a two-week pay period during September, Pitfield was paid for 340 hours of work. He was paid for his standard 70 hours and 226 hours of disaster pay. Pitfield was also credited with 44 hours of comp time.

During that pay period, when he would typically make $5,300, Pitfield was paid more than $22,000.

In the first pay period of October, Kenner and Zahn paid Pitfield for 326 hours of work, meaning he was only off for 10 hours over 14 days.

“Unless there’s an arrangement, salary employees don’t get paid overtime,” Tulane Law Professor Joel Friedman said. “Only hourly employees get overtime.”

Pitfield isn’t the only employee whose paystubs raise concerns.

Zahn also paid his Public Works Director Kenny Melvin for 323 hours during that one post-Ida pay period, claiming he was only off for 13 hours over a 14-day span.

“People worked hard, but were paid for what?” Friedman asked. “There is no doubt employees work hard.”

Even more questionable, Stephen Phillipe, an emergency response coordinator, was paid for 372 hours of work in a 336 hour work period.

“You can’t work 25 hours a day,” Friedman said.

Fox 8 requested these records back in October. Kenner told us it would take at least 45 days to hand them over. It was well past 45 days when a judge ordered the city to produce the records, which they turned over within days of the court’s ruling.

The city of Kenner sent this statement:

“During a declared disaster emergency, which was the case after Ida, some staff are required to report to work while others are allowed to evacuate or shelter at home.

All employees receive their regular pay during that time. Those required to report to work during a declared emergency receive additional pay for all hours worked.

The policy for directors, assistant directors, and executive staff, which includes Chad Pitfield, is: For the days the city was closed, those employees are automatically paid their regularly scheduled hours even if they were not called in. In addition, those employees who are called into work are paid that time in addition to the regular pay for normal scheduled hours, plus administrative comp time for hours worked outside of the declared emergency time.

For hours worked inside the declared emergency time, those employees are paid normal scheduled hours plus straight time.

For example, an employee in that category is called in and works 19 hours during a 24-hour period. That 19 hours is added to the 7 hours, which is the regularly scheduled pay, for a total of 26 hours.

This policy has been in place since 2002 in Kenner and FEMA has approved and reimbursed the city after emergency events since then including hurricanes and an ice storm.

It’s important to note that employees are working in extremely adverse and often dangerous conditions to put the city back together. This type of work takes place all over the country after emergencies and is routinely reimbursed by FEMA.”

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