Chicago Tribune

DUPAGE AIDES NET OVERTIME BONANZA

By John Chase
April 24, 2000
Chicago Tribune

Illinois' dysfunctional child-support unit last winter failed to send support checks out on time to thousands of single mothers across the state, but the DuPage County administrators who set up and ran the system cashed in.

Though they do not usually receive overtime, DuPage County Circuit Clerk Joel Kagann's six top lieutenants divvied up nearly $125,000 in overtime in about four months for work they did on the check-distribution unit, according to county payment records obtained by the Tribune.

Kagann's chief deputy, Dewey Hartman, received $56,000 in overtime in 4 1/2 months for 750 hours of extra work--the equivalent of 20 weeks of normal hours. The overtime payments are in addition to his $100,000 annual salary.

Dennis Hoffman, chief of the office's data-processing department, received $30,733 for 565 hours of extra work. His annual salary is nearly $72,000.

Though no one contends the administrators did not work the extra hours, some state officials and legislative leaders are raising objections to the payments and plan to investigate.

"I find it offensive," said state Rep. Mary K. O'Brien (D-Coal City), a frequent critic of the DuPage contract. "Mr. Kagann originally had an $8 million contract that has now ballooned to $32 million. And now he wants (taxpayers) to front bonus checks to his administrators."

Faced with a federal mandate to create the statewide clearinghouse for collecting and distributing child-support checks, the state last year signed an $8.5 million contract with Kagann's office to run the operation out of Wheaton. The state set aside an additional $2.9 million to cover unexpected costs.

But problems arose from the day the unit opened on Oct. 1. Tens of thousands of child-support checks were lost, sent to the wrong addresses or made out for incorrect amounts. Thousands of families and single parents were left without the money they needed to pay for rent, heating bills or Christmas presents.

The difficulties caused costs to soar. Over the winter the state Department of Public Aid increased Kagann's contract by $10 million for emergency payments to families whose checks had been lost in the system. And though Kagann had 50 employees on hand when the unit opened, officials later determined they needed 210 to do the job correctly, driving up the cost by an additional $2.5 million.

Among other unexpected expenses, the state also has been forced to hire an outside firm to run the unit, at a cost of $1 million.

The state now says the program will cost $31.4 million through the end of June, nearly three times the original estimate.

Kagann has asked the state to reimburse DuPage for the overtime, but Public Aid Director Ann Patla is reviewing the request.

"It struck me as something not quite the norm because these are employees who normally do not receive overtime," Patla said. "But maybe there is a good reason. . . . It is going to be up to Mr. Kagann to make the case if this overtime was absolutely necessary."

Kagann says the overtime was necessary to keep the system from falling apart.

"These are people who worked seven days a week, 16 or 17 hours a day," Kagann said. "Supervisors at that (administrative) level don't usually make overtime, but this was an emergency situation and I decided to pay them."

Patla said she expects to decide next month.

Hartman, who managed the clearinghouse, said the 750 hours he logged from October through the middle of January do not even come close to the actual amount of time he spent dealing with the myriad problems the unit faced.

"I literally was living here in my office for four months, and so were some of the others," Hartman said. "We paid huge personal prices to handle this effort. Some were on the verge of family problems. Our time is worth something too."

He added: "It's not like we were being offered a few extra hours here or there. This was a do-or-die situation."

O'Brien and state Rep. Julie Curry (D-Decatur), who both sit on the Legislative Audit Commission, said they plan to address the overtime matter at the commission's meeting May 25 in Chicago.

"Every time we think we have a handle on this situation, something like this comes up," said Curry, the commission's co-chair. "It doesn't make sense to me that the State of Illinois should honor those payments."

Kagann's office will no longer run the system when its contract runs out at the end of June. The private management firm of Deloitte & Touche will take over as interim manager. The state is looking for a full-time contractor to assume responsibility of the system around the first of the year.

Besides Hartman and Hoffman, four other clerk's office administrators normally considered ineligible for overtime were paid for extra hours they spent working for the clearinghouse, records show. They are:

In addition, 77 employees who are eligible for overtime and were hired specifically by Kagann to help run the Illinois child-support unit were paid more than $177,000 in overtime from October through April 7, according to county payment records.

Curry said she does not think the state should pay overtime to the administrators because they were the ones in charge of establishing the check disbursement unit and should have known it was not ready to go on-line.

But Hartman, a 25-year employee of the clerk's office, said he believes the criticism is unfair. Many of the problems the new unit faced were due to inaccurate and incomplete information coming from the state Department of Public Aid and the other 101 counties in Illinois, he said. Hartman said he and other workers spent much of their overtime trying to resolve those problems.

"This was never a computer problem; it was an information problem," Hartman said. "If a payment came in with complete information, then it went out on time."

Kagann said it was his idea to pay the administrators overtime, even though many of them turned it down initially.

"If you had a tornado go through this town and then wanted to pay firemen overtime, would people complain? Of course not," Kagann said. "These people gave up their Thanksgiving, their Christmas, their holidays, and they had the knowledge of the job and worked. They deserved to be compensated."

These days, Kagann and Hartman say, the system is running well, with 98 percent of the child-support checks being sent out within two days after the unit receives the money. They credit that to the overtime they spent trying to work out all the snafus.

Hartman said many clerk employees continue to work overtime to keep the system running until the office gives up control.

But Hartman said no one is filing for overtime pay because Patla has said the county would not be reimbursed for it.

"These people didn't walk away, and they're still working overtime to this day without pay," Hartman said. "We were told we wouldn't get any more overtime, but we're still working.

"We care very deeply about the unit, despite what some people may think."

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