County Prison Overtime Tom Mills

Background
Franklin County is a suburban-rural county located in one of the Mid-Atlantic
states. It adjoins a large eastern city and has a land area of 650 square miles; a
population of approximately 500,000; and forty-five local governments that consist
of boroughs, villages, and townships. The local governments have their own police
forces but lack secure holding facilities for defendants who have been arrested and
bound over by local magistrates for trial in the county courts.
The county provides all its criminal justice system services from the county
courthouse located in Franklinville, the county seat. On a tract of county-owned
land just outside of Franklinville, the county operates two detention facilities: a
small, medium-security facility for juveniles and a large, modern, medium-security
facility for both male and female adult detainees. The latter facility, called the
county prison, has a capacity of approximately 340 inmates and is maintained and
operated by a staff of 181 employees.
Franklin County’s chief lawmaking and administrative authority is the elected
county commission, which is vested with both executive and legislative powers.
Voters also elect a number of administrative officers—including the sheriff, the
controller, and the district attorney—and the judges of the county court, which is
called the supreme court of common pleas.
The county commission consists of three members elected countywide for
four-year terms. The county code requires that one of the three commissioners be
a member of the opposing, or minority, party. The county is predominantly Republican,
and members of that party regularly control the countywide elective offices.
The county commission, perhaps owing to its higher visibility, has occasionally
been controlled by a Democratic majority.
The county commissioners appoint a county administrator, all nonelected
department heads, and the members of most county boards and commissions.
The day-to-day operation of the county is the responsibility of the county administrator—a
professional local government manager who is recruited and appointed
on the basis of technical competence. The county boasts a commitment to professionalism.
The county administrator recruits and hires his or her own staff and has
been responsible for securing the appointments of the finance director, the personnel
director, and the director of purchasing.
The county code constrains the county commissioners’ powers of appointment
in some instances. The power to appoint the director of the department of corrections,
who oversees both the county prison and the juvenile rehabilitation center,
is vested in a prison board. The prison board is composed of the president judge of
the supreme court of common pleas (or that judge’s designee), the district attorney,
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the sheriff, the controller, and the three county commissioners. Five of the seven
members of the board were Republicans at the time this case begins.
The Case
In the previous election, the Democratic party had won the majority of seats on
the county commission by taking what proved to be the more popular position on
a critical environmental issue. In hopes of reelection, the Democratic commissioners
instituted a cost-containment program that, if successful, would enable them to
complete their term without raising taxes. The commissioners issued a directive to
all department heads instructing them to implement economies wherever possible.
The county administrator, George Truly, was given the principal responsibility for
implementing the cost-containment program. He, in turn, had charged the finance
director, Donald Dexter, with much of the program’s operating responsibility.
After monitoring the expenditures of the county prison, Dexter was convinced
that overtime expenditures were out of control. He had met on several occasions
with Charles Goodheart, the director of corrections, and had called him almost
weekly in an effort to reduce overtime costs. In Dexter’s view, those contacts had
been of little value, since overtime expenditures continued at what he regarded as
an excessive rate. Somewhat reluctantly, he decided to go on record. He dictated
what was to be the first in a series of memorandums sent electronically.
March 12
TO: Charles R. Goodheart, Director of Corrections
FROM: Donald D. Dexter, Finance Director
SUBJECT: Excessive Prison Overtime
Pursuant to the county commissioners’ directive of January 8 establishing the cost containment
program, my staff and I have been closely monitoring the overtime expenditures incurred in the
operation of the county prison. We have had several meetings and numerous telephone conversations
regarding this matter with both you and your key staff members—all to no avail. Overtime
expenditures have continued to rise and might well exceed the budget allocation. This I find to
be particularly distressing, since we had every hope that this was one area of your operation in
which we could effect significant savings.
I would greatly appreciate it if you would provide me, at your first opportunity, with a detailed
justification for the current rate of overtime usage and your plans to keep such expenditures to
an absolute minimum.
cc: George S. Truly, County Administrator
Frank Friendly, Personnel Director
Before sending this memorandum, Dexter had given considerable thought to its
wording and had concluded that, even if the memorandum was a bit strong, it was
warranted in this situation.
In the weeks that followed, Dexter continued to scrutinize the prison payroll
records but did not observe any reduction in the use of overtime. He was about
to schedule yet another meeting with Goodheart when he received the following
memorandum through the interoffice mail.
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April 5
TO: Donald D. Dexter, Finance Director
FROM: Charles R. Goodheart, Director of Corrections
SUBJECT: Response to Your Request for Information Regarding Overtime Expenditures
You indicated in your e-mail of March 12 that you thought we were utilizing an excessive amount
of overtime. I welcome the opportunity to explain what might appear to be excessive overtime
usage, but which really is no more than prudent prison management.
You will recall that during the budget hearings last year, I shared with you information on
overtime usage in the four surrounding counties. Each of these counties has a comparable prison
system, and, as I noted then, each uses more overtime than we do.
You must remember that I requested $434,400 as an overtime allocation for the current fiscal
year (including holiday overtime). The overtime figure that was allocated to this department was
substantially less. When budget allocations were announced, there was no explanation for the
reduced overtime figure other than a general statement—which certainly is appropriate for you
as finance director to make—that times were difficult, money was tight, and every effort must be
made to curtail unnecessary expenditures.
Although I accept these comments in the spirit in which they were made, I still am held responsible
and accountable to the prison board for operating a safe and secure correctional institution.
Prisons are potentially very dangerous, and that danger can be averted only by keeping staffing
levels at safe and realistic levels.
As we both know, there are many justifiable causes for overtime usage in a prison setting. In the
following paragraphs I’ll attempt to identify the major causes.
Turnover. During last year and continuing into this year, we have experienced high levels of
turnover among our correctional officers. When staff members leave, we are required to fill their
posts, which we do through the use of overtime. The problem continues during recruitment for
replacements and during the three-week training course to which all recruits are sent. When you
add the two- to four-week delay in filling positions to the three-week training period, you can
readily see that a considerable amount of overtime might be involved.
Turnover is perhaps our most critical problem. Previously I sent you a detailed commentary
on our turnover experience. Over the past several years, I have told everyone willing to listen
that there is a strong relationship between turnover in a correctional institution and overtime
expenditures.
First of all, entry-level correctional officers are poorly paid and, as I’ve told the county commissioners
at every budget hearing, that is certainly true in our case. Second, this is a very difficult
profession. Prison personnel are continually required to work at very high stress levels. Finally,
we enjoy very little public esteem, and the working conditions can on occasion be very unpleasant.
It’s a small wonder that there is high turnover not only in our prisons but in prisons all
across this country. When a staff member leaves, the need to fill the post continues. Unless the
prison board tells me that it does not want me to fill vacant posts, I will continue to do so, and I
have no choice but to use overtime.
Hospital watches. Whenever an inmate requires inpatient treatment in a local hospital, I must
provide the necessary security. Recently, two inmates were hospitalized. For each day of hospitalization,
we provided two correctional officers per shift, three shifts per day, for a total of
(continued)
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forty-eight hours of coverage. As you can see, the time mounts up rapidly. We have no fat in our
shift complements; therefore, when a need like this arises, it must be covered with overtime.
Emergency situations. Whenever there is reason to believe that inmates might be planning an
action that could endanger the security of the institution, I adopt an emergency plan that puts
all supervisors on twelve-hour shifts. I do not place this institution on an emergency footing for
any trivial or illusory cause. Those instances in which I have used emergency overtime have been
fully justified, and I stand by my actions.
Sick leave. Our sick leave usage compares favorably with that of other county departments that
enjoy less trying working conditions. Still, when a correctional officer calls in sick, his or her position
must be filled, and it is usually filled by the use of overtime. We can’t call in a replacement
on one hour’s notice on the person’s day off, upset his or her family life, and worsen a bad morale
situation simply to cover an eight-hour shift. We think that the use of overtime in these situations
is the most sensible solution.
Workers’ compensation. I have frequently remarked on this problem in the past. Today we are
filling two posts that are vacant as a result of workers’ compensation claims against the county.
When an employee is injured on the job and a doctor certifies that he or she may not work, I have
no choice but to utilize overtime to fill the post. I simply don’t have any slack resources that
would permit me to do otherwise.
Reserve duty. Under the laws of this state, all staff members who are members of bona fide
military reserve units are authorized to take fifteen days of paid military leave annually. When
they depart for their military training, their posts remain, and we are responsible for filling them.
The problem is exacerbated by the tendency of both military leave and vacations to cluster
in the summer months. Another aspect of military reserve duty also generates overtime. Our
correctional officers are scheduled around the clock and frequently are scheduled to work on a
weekend when they are expected to attend reserve drills. Under the policy adopted by the county
commissioners, the reservists may take “no-pay” time and fulfill their reserve obligations, while
the county saves their straight-time pay. I am forced to use overtime to fill their posts.
Vacations. We do make a concerted effort to schedule vacations so as not to result in overtime
expenditures. Unfortunately, as a direct result of our lean staffing, on occasion we must resort to
overtime to permit our correctional officers to enjoy the vacations they have earned.
Training programs. Compared to the standard advocated by national authorities, our training
efforts are extremely modest. We provide equal employment opportunity training, particularly
with respect to our female correctional officers, and some supervisory training. In addition,
we provide training in interpersonal communication skills—training I regard as essential in an
institution such as ours. Since our shift schedules contain no fat, personnel must be brought in
for training on their days off, which, of course, results in overtime.
The major causes of our overtime expenditures are as noted above. I have brought these problems
and their causes to the attention of the county commissioners at every budget hearing over
the past nine years. Our staff utilization records and overtime documentation are available to
anyone who wishes to review them. We have nothing to hide.
I don’t mean to be flippant or discourteous but frankly, I’m no wizard. I cannot operate this institution
without a reasonable overtime allocation any more than the Jews of antiquity could make
bricks without straw. For you to insist that I do so strikes me as being every bit as unreasonable
as was the order of the Pharaoh’s overseer. (continued)
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Dexter read the memorandum twice, his feelings alternating between anger
and frustration. He regarded Goodheart highly, knowing him to be a caring individual
and a respected corrections professional. “But clearly,” thought Dexter, “he’s
no administrator. I asked him for a detailed justification of his use of overtime
and his plans to keep those expenditures to a minimum, and what did he do? He
offered me a lesson in biblical history and tried to put the monkey on my back
with that bit about ‘any thoughtful and constructive recommendations’ I might
have—baloney!”
Dexter further noted that Goodheart had twice mentioned his accountability to
the county prison board and had been ungracious enough to copy the prison board
members on the memorandum. “That,” thought Dexter sourly, “is just a brazen
example of saber rattling. Maybe he thinks that he can get me off his case if he can
broaden the controversy by bringing in the prison board. Not likely!” Still angry,
he spun in his chair, picked up his headset and microphone, and started to use the
voice recognition software on his computer.
Meanwhile, Jim Kirby, chair of the county commission, was enjoying his new
role. He was no stranger to county government: he had been the minority commissioner
for eight years under Republican administrations, but that, he felt, was
essentially a naysayer role. Now, as the chair during a Democratic administration,
he was in a position to take the lead on policy decisions, and he was enjoying it.
He had founded a successful business in the county and had called the shots there
for more than thirty years. Although Kirby had often mused that government and
business were much more different than alike—at least on paper—he relished his
leadership role in the county.
Kirby prided himself on his capacity for work and made every effort to keep on
top of things. He regretted that he had not read Corrections Director Goodheart’s
memorandum of April 5 before attending the monthly prison board meeting. He
hated to be blindsided. The presiding judge of the supreme court of common pleas,
Harvey Strickland, who was also president of the prison board, had shown Kirby
his printout of the Goodheart memorandum as well as a copy of Dexter’s memorandum
of March 12, which had prompted Goodheart’s reply.
Strickland had been his usual amiable self, but Kirby knew from long experience
that with Strickland you worried not about what he said but about what he
left unsaid. The fact that Strickland had brought the memorandums with him to the
meeting and his oblique references to “those in this life who are penny-wise and
pound-foolish” convinced Kirby that trouble was brewing.
As soon as Kirby got back to his office, he called George Truly, the county
administrator, and asked him to stop by. Truly was the perfect balance to Kirby.
Kirby was born to lead—an activist by nature—full of ideas and restless energy and
If you can provide specific suggestions regarding policies or methodologies that you feel will
assist in overtime reduction without compromising safe and efficient operation of this institution,
please be assured that we will be happy to work with you in implementing them. We are
open to any thoughtful and constructive recommendations that you or your staff may have.
In the meantime, you might consider funding a comprehensive study of our staffing needs,
including the need for overtime, by a nationally recognized group specializing in the field of
corrections.
cc: Members of the County Prison Board
George S. Truly, County Administrator
Frank Friendly, Personnel Director
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impatient with detail. Truly, on the other hand, was a doer. A professional administrator
with substantial background in local government, he disliked the publicity
and pressure of policy leadership, preferring instead the satisfaction that came from
making policies work and seeing that services were delivered. The two men understood
each other and had developed an effective working relationship. Neither one
worried about the line between policy and administration. Each one understood
the overlap between the two activities and freely advised the other about county
problems.
As Truly walked through the doorway, Kirby asked him, “Are you familiar with
Don Dexter’s memo of March 12 and Charlie Goodheart’s reply?”
Truly said that he was and that he had already spoken to Dexter about them,
but that he had been too late.
“What do you mean ‘too late’?” Kirby asked. “This thing looks to me like it can
still be salvaged.”
“Then,” Truly replied, “I guess you haven’t seen Don’s memorandum of April 7.”
April 7
TO: Charles R. Goodheart, Director of Corrections
FROM: Donald D. Dexter, Finance Director
SUBJECT: Your Evasive Memorandum of April 5
In a sincere effort to implement the county commissioners’ directive establishing a countywide
cost containment program, I wrote to you on March 12. In my e-memorandum I asked you to
provide me with a detailed justification for the current rate of overtime usage and your plans to
keep such expenditures to an absolute minimum.
In reply, you gave me three pages of generalities and gratuitous comments. You’re the prison
expert, not me. If I had any good ideas on how you could run your operation more efficiently or
economically, you can be sure I’d offer them. But as I see it, that’s your job, not mine. My job is to
see to the financial well-being of this county, and I can’t do my job if I don’t get cooperation.
That’s all I’m asking for—your cooperation in achieving the goals set for all of us by the county
commissioners. Your knowledge of the Old Testament is better than mine, but I do know that the
Pharaoh didn’t pay overtime. As far as I am concerned, you can have all the straw you want, but
cut down on the overtime.
The Decision Problem
After Commission Chair Kirby had finished reading Dexter’s memo of April 7, he
sighed wearily, laid it aside, looked up at Truly, and said, “I see what you mean.
Any suggestions?”
Truly was a career administrator who had spent twenty-two years in a series
of increasingly demanding city management jobs before being recruited by Kirby
to serve as Franklin County administrator. He had been given full authority in the
recruitment of his administrative staff, and he had picked, among others, Don
Dexter. Not only was Dexter extremely bright but he also had been the controller
for a large manufacturing firm in the county—quite an accomplishment for a man
who was not yet thirty. “But,” Truly reflected, “he’s never swum in political waters
before, and there’s no question that he’s in over his head.”
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As the two men reviewed the situation, they tried to define the problem specifically,
to identify possible courses of action, and to anticipate the probable outcomes
of those alternatives.
It was evident that whatever they did, they had to do it quickly. Strickland
could not yet have seen Dexter’s memorandum of April 7. If he had, he would have
had it with him at the meeting, and he would not have been so affable.
The cost-containment program was important to Kirby and the other Democrat
on the county commission. It was probably their best hope for reelection. If they
exempted the county prison from the program for fear of what the prison board
might do, the program could be weakened throughout the county. After all, why
should the other departments conform if the prison wasn’t expected to do its part?
Under the county code, the prison board, not the county commission, was
responsible for approving all prison-related expenditures. With its Republican
majority, the board could give Goodheart a blank check if they wanted to and the
commissioners would be able to do nothing about it. “Well not exactly nothing,”
groused Kirby. “We could direct the county solicitor to sue the prison board, but
since the president of the board is also the president judge, that’s more of a theoretical
than a practical remedy.”
In fact, it was much more likely that the prison board would wind up suing
the county commissioners. If the board alleged that an imminent threat to public
safety was created by the refusal of the commissioners and their agents to fund
the county prison adequately, it could bring an action in mandamus. In that event,
the prison board would not be likely to limit the action to the question of prison
overtime but would, in all likelihood, open a Pandora’s box of problems. Goodheart
had documented many of these problems in his memorandum of April 5, and that
memo would probably be Exhibit A at a trial. Issues most likely to be litigated
included the needs for adequate prison staffing levels, proactive strategies to combat
the high rate of turnover, and higher salaries for correctional officers.
Kirby knew that if political warfare broke out, the Republicans would move
quickly to seize the high ground. They would allege that the Democrats were jeopardizing
the safety and tranquility of the community for the sake of a few paltry
dollars. Kirby was too old a hand to suppose that arguments of efficiency and
economy would carry any weight with the public in such a debate—especially if
citizens were convinced that they were going to be murdered in their beds.
Since all the elected officials in the county were Republicans with the exception
of Kirby and the other Democratic commissioner, they could really make things
untenable. So far, the elected officials had been cooperating in the cost-containment
program. If, however, they chose to support the prison board in a confrontation
with the commission, the cost-containment program would be thoroughly scuttled.
“Don Dexter really put us in a box,” remarked Kirby.
“Yes, but he’s young and bright. He won’t make the same mistake again,”
replied Truly.
“If the president judge gets him in his sights, he won’t have the opportunity,”
observed Kirby solemnly.
“Funny thing,” Kirby continued. “Don was right—that memorandum from
Charlie was evasive, but Don should have known better than to say so. More than
that, he shouldn’t have written at all, much less send an e-mail to a guy like Charlie.
In a situation like that, you go to see the guy. E-mail is a very incomplete, very
limited way to communicate. It’s a lot easier to talk tough to your computer than to
an adversary. My rules have always been to never write a letter if you can avoid it,
and never throw one away.”
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After almost an hour of discussion, the two men had identified five alternative
approaches to the problem. Unfortunately, none of them was without risk.
1. Exempt the prison from the cost-containment program. Under this alternative,
Kirby would contact Strickland informally and intimate that the commission
would not be unduly concerned if the prison did not achieve its cost containment
objectives. The justification offered would be that, as a public safety and
law enforcement agency, the prison ought not be held to the same standard
of cost reduction as other agencies, lest public safety suffer. The main problem
with this approach was that party loyalty was paramount in this county,
and Strickland was certain to share this information with the other elected
officials—especially the district attorney and the sheriff, who headed justice
system agencies. Once the commissioners had yielded on the prison, it would
be difficult for them to hold the line on other justice system agencies, and the
cost-containment program would be seriously jeopardized. The result could
be that the majority commissioners would be branded as weak men of little
resolve. And that could have serious spillover effects in other areas.
2. Fund an in-depth study of the prison by a nationally recognized group specializing
in corrections. Since this was a solution proposed by the director of
corrections, it would most likely gain the acceptance of the prison board. Apart
from the cost of such a study, which could be considerable, its recommendations
were not likely to be favorable to the county administration. Through
long experience, Kirby and Truly had come to believe that special-interest
groups of any ilk rarely supported anything antithetical to their special interest.
Worse yet, a comprehensive study might only document and verify the types
of complaints that the director of corrections had been making for years. It was
one thing to ignore his complaints; it would be something quite different were
the county administration to ignore the studied recommendations of nationally
recognized experts.
3. Conduct an in-house study of the need for prison overtime. This alternative
had a good deal to recommend it. The county had a small management
analysis team that reported directly to the county administrator. The supervisor
of the team was a thoroughly honest and objective career professional who
had been a founding member of the Association of Management Analysts in
State and Local Government and was well respected both within the county
and beyond its borders. The problem, of course, was one of credibility. Despite
his excellent reputation, his objectivity might be questioned in the partisan
political climate that prevailed in Franklin County. Moreover, the prison board
might refuse to approve such a study. A study could be undertaken without the
prison board’s concurrence, as a prerogative of the majority commissioners,
but in that event, the prison board might view the study as flawed.
4. Attempt to find an honest broker to conduct a study of prison overtime. “Honest”
in this context meant someone who would be considered honest in the
eyes of the prison board—someone they would perceive as having no ax to
grind. Ideally, this person should already work for the county and be known
by, and enjoy the confidence of, the prison board. The downside of this
alternative, assuming that such a person could be found, was that the honest
broker might not be all that honest. Should such a person be selected with the
prison board’s concurrence, that person might very well take the prison board’s
side, to the considerable embarrassment of the county administration.
5. Invite Strickland to undertake the overtime study with members of his staff.
The court’s administrative staff included several career professionals in court
administration who were graduates of the Institute for Court Management.
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They were undoubtedly capable of conducting the study, and Strickland and
the prison board which he clearly dominated would certainly find them acceptable.
The question again was one of objectivity. Truly favored this alternative,
arguing that if, as he believed, they really were professionals, they would be
objective. Kirby’s response was insightful: “I don’t recall chapter and verse but
somewhere in the scripture it is written, ‘Whose bread I eat, his song I sing,’
and those fellows eat court bread.”
Three things were essential: a dispassionate review of prison overtime usage,
the development of sound recommendations that would reduce overtime expenses
without endangering the public, and an appraisal of the adequacy of the current
budgetary allocation for prison overtime. This last point was particularly important.
Goodheart continually reminded the prison board that his overtime request
had been cut arbitrarily by the finance department without consultation or even
explanation. True, there were other important questions that the study could
appropriately consider, such as the adequacy of entry-level salaries for correctional
officers and the appropriateness of current staffing levels. But solutions to both of
these problems would be likely to cost the county more money. Given a choice,
Kirby would prefer to postpone consideration of all problems that might result in
increased costs to the county until after the next election.
Fortunately, the collective bargaining agreement with the local union that represented
the correctional officers was due to expire in September. The study would
certainly be completed well before then, and any recommendations requiring workrule
changes could be negotiated as part of the contract settlement.
Kirby turned to Truly and said, “George, give this some thought—and quickly.
See what you can come up with.”
Truly knew he had to work fast to answer two questions: Which of the alternatives
should be recommended? If a study were to be undertaken, what kind of
expert should be given the assignment?
Discussion Questions
1. Judging from the statements and actions of the principal actors in the case, in
what ways did their value premises differ?
2. What purposes, if any, are served by going on record, as Finance Director Dexter
did in his first e-mail?
3. Instead of replying to Corrections Director Goodheart’s memorandum of April 5
while he was still angry, what should Dexter have done?
4. Was Commission Chair Kirby correct in his observation that “writing is a very
incomplete, very limited way to communicate”?
5. Kirby and County Administrator George Truly clearly have misgivings about the
objectivity of a nationally recognized group of corrections experts. Are those
reservations well founded? Would the recommendations of such a group be
more likely to support or oppose the director of corrections? Why?
6. Which of the five alternatives—alone or in combination—should Truly
recommend?
7. If the county administrator’s recommendation involves a study, what kind of
expert should be selected to head it? Should it be a member of the county staff
or an outsider? Should partisan affiliation be a consideration? Should the prison
board be consulted on the choice? How important is reputation in selecting a
leader for such an assignment?
8. If a study is to be commissioned, what charge or instructions should be given
to the analysts?