Speaker Oceguera — another government ‘double-dipper’?
While leading Assembly Democrats in Carson City the last four years as majority leader and then speaker, John Oceguera was also drawing full-time pay as a City of North Las Vegas fireman, according to city fire department records.
Oceguera and Fire Chief Al Gillespie, however, say the records are inaccurate.
“I was paid for nine hours a week,” said Oceguera, “and the rest of the time was accrued vacation or furlough time, meaning I did not get paid.”
However, fire department work-roster logs for 2009 and 2011, obtained by Nevada Journal under the state open-records law, credit the assemblyman with four-day work weeks, nine hours each day, for most of both legislative sessions.
Shown those records, Oceguera sent a screen-shot of the city’s timecard software showing a two-week period in May 2011. The entries show him using unpaid furlough for May 11 and 12, and annual leave for May 16 through May 19 — in contradiction of the staffing records. However, the same screen shot showed him to have been paid by the city for nine hours on Monday, May 9 and another nine hours on Tuesday, May 10. On both days he was in Carson City.
According to the journal of the Nevada Assembly, on May 9 Oceguera was presiding over that chamber. Also on that day, according to Senate minutes, he testified before the Senate Education Committee. On May 10, he again presided over the Assembly, later speaking to reporters as Assembly Democrats passed their proposed education budget.
Asked about the screen shot showing him being paid by the City of North Las Vegas for two days when he was actually in Carson City, Oceguera explained in an e-mail that the information shown in the screen shot was not literally true:
Yes, 9 hrs a week as I described to you, its [sic] just coded 2 days of furlough, 4 days of Al [annual leave], and two days of regular pay for ease of coding.
For the fire department’s administrative personnel, much of the department’s record keeping of hours on duty does appear to reflect not fact, but merely “ease of coding.”
“We don’t work seven days a week,” Chief Gillespie told Nevada Journal.“But all of my administrative staff normally is listed seven days a week because theoretically they could respond.”
He, like Oceguera, emphasized that Oceguera was “on-call virtually every weekend.”
Asked if any remuneration went with being “on call,” Gillespie said: “We have a salary. We’re salaried. So it doesn’t matter what our … when we’re actually in the office or when we’re responding to calls.”
Gillespie acknowledged that, because Oceguera is salaried, his salary is paid to him regardless of the particular hours he puts in. Yet the chief also insisted that the assistant chief’s salary had been smaller during legislative sessions, reflecting unpaid furloughs.
However, Gillespie seemed unable to explain why the city had reported in 2009 that Oceguera had received what Oceguera himself described to Nevada Journal as his full base pay, plus longevity pay, when Oceguera had spent at least one-third of the year as Assembly majority leader in Carson City.
Since Oceguera’s total reported compensation for the year was $151,772, one-third of the year’s salary would exceed $50,000.
The issue, therefore, is whether — or to what extent — Oceguera was “double-dipping,” or receiving two taxpayer-financed salaries for two government jobs at the same time.
In 2003, Wendell Williams, Kelvin Atkinson and Kathy McClain — other Assembly Democrats who at the time also had full-time jobs with local governments in Southern Nevada — were all fired by their local-government employers after news reports detailed different ploys the legislators had used to receive compensation from their local-government employers while in Carson City at the Legislature.
Williams repeatedly allowed himself to be reported as at work for the City of Las Vegas when he was actually working in Carson. Atkinson reported himself as on sick leave when he actually was legislating or dining with colleagues in Carson. McClain, too, used the sick-leave ploy.
In 2003, Oceguera was a second-term assemblyman, having first been elected in 2000. When asked how he juggled his fire department job against his legislative job, he regularly explained that he traded shifts with other firemen or took annual or holiday leave.
And indeed, that explanation is consistent with eight years of Oceguera shift trades, leaves and furloughs listed in the 10 years of fire department work-roster logs obtained by Nevada Journal. The logs were reported to cover all fire department employees between Jan. 1, 2001 and May 31, 2011. According to Captain Scott Gorgon — who administers the TeleStaff-brand software the department uses to manage its rosters — for the last five years the TeleStaff data has been the basis of the department’s payroll.
Oceguera, however, argues that while the information in the roster-management system may be correct for line personnel — firemen, fire engineers, etc. — it is not correct for top administrators. He points out that Fire Chief Gillespie’s name does not appear in the records Nevada Journal received. And when some of the administrators and battalion chiefs listed on the department’s Web home page are checked against the records, some are present, but others are not.
Interestingly, however, the records do correctly reflect the new 36-hour-a-week work schedule that Oceguera began when he became assistant fire chief in 2008. And the work rosters do agree — regarding that four-day-a-week schedule — with the schedule shown on the screen shot Oceguera submitted.
But the rosters also list him as having been on active duty in the North Las Vegas Fire Department during the 2009 and 2011 legislative sessions when, as a legislator, he would have been active in Carson City.
During the 2009 Legislative Session, for example, Oceguera was credited with 68 fire department work days, nine hours each day, for a total of 612 paid hours. During the 2011 session, he was credited with 64 days, nine hours a day, for a total of 576 hours.
At the rate the city reported paying Oceguera in 2009 — $151,772 — and the number of hours the logs report him being “on duty” during the year —1,809 — one can calculate an hourly 2009 rate of roughly $84. Multiplying that rate by the number of hours Oceguera was credited with during the 2009 Legislature (612 x $84) would suggest he was paid some $51,345 by the North Las Vegas Fire Department during the 2009 session.
During the 2011 session, if he had received no raise in the meantime, Oceguera would have received at least another $48,325 from the department while legislating in Carson City.
During both sessions, Oceguera would have also been pocketing his legislative pay. According to Chapter Two of the state Legislative Manual, lawmakers currently receive pay of $130 a day for the first 60 days of the session, plus per diem of $154 per day for all 120 days or more. Thus every lawmaker receives at a minimum $26,280 per session. Lawmakers get an additional “communications allowance of $2,800 per session, while their costs associated with travel during a session (moving expenses, housing and furniture rental, and travel related to legislative business) are reimbursed, subject to an overall limit of $10,000. Members who chair standing committees or are in legislative leadership receive an extra $900 per session.
Thus at a minimum Oceguera would have received legislative compensation from the 2011 session of some $29,980, and possibly that much additionally from the 2009 session.
These calculations do not include the legislator and per diem pay Oceguera would have received during the Legislature’s interim sessions, when he attended 16 meetings of the powerful Interim Finance Committee, or seven meetings of the Legislative Commission, which he chaired. Spot checks indicate Oceguera also was reported receiving full-day fire department pay for days when he was recorded as being present at meetings of the Interim Finance Committee or the Legislative Commission.
The records received by Nevada Journal suggest that Oceguera began his time in the Nevada Legislature conscientiously observing North Las Vegas city policy, which requires employees who are also legislators to take time off from their city jobs during session. In the words of city spokeswoman Juliet Casey, that policy exists so city employees are not “working in Carson on City time.”
During the 2001 session — his first session in the Legislature — Oceguera had arranged with other firemen to trade shifts to cover over 92 percent of the time he was in Carson City. At the end of the session, having paid his co-workers back 48 hours working Sundays, he still owed them 912 hours. During the rest of the year, he paid back 222.
In 2002, say departmental records, he paid back another 352 hours but used another 190 in additional shift trades. He thus ended the year with a 528-hour shift-trade deficit.
Beginning with the 2003 Legislature, Oceguera changed his strategy, the records suggest. During the subsequent regular session and two special sessions, he cut his use of shift trades in half, to 480, and was reported as working more Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays back in North Las Vegas. He also used 175 hours of annual leave and 96 hours of holiday leave. Finally, for 240 hours, according to the department staffing roster, he simply went without pay.
With the additional shift trades, 72 of which were paid back during the session, Oceguera returned to North Las Vegas after the 2003 session owing his fellow firemen 936 hours. Over the rest of 2003 and 2004, he added another 204.5 shift-trade hours but paid back 689, according to the records, reducing his balance owed to 451.5 hours.
During the 2005 legislative sessions — one regular and one special — the assemblyman added another 168 hours net in shift trades, raising the hours he owed other firefighters to 619.5. According to the roster records, he also took 351 hours of leave, put in 293 hours back in North Las Vegas, working Fridays and weekends, and simply went without pay for another 124 hours.
By the end of 2006, according to the records, Oceguera had worked off a net 273.5 hours of the shift trades he owed, leaving a balance of 346.
During the 2007 sessions — one regular and one special — Oceguera’s owed shift-trade hours increased by a net 198, to a total of 544. Then, during the balance of 2007 and 2008, he made up 112 shift-trade hours before officially assuming his new position as assistant fire chief of the North Las Vegas Fire Department.
Thus, when named to his new post, Oceguera still appeared to owe his firefighter colleagues for 432 hours they had worked for him while he was in Carson City and that he had never paid back.
Oceguera denies that, however, saying that during the 1990s, when he was a young, single man with no children, he regularly worked Christmas and New Year’s for other firemen. Those shifts, in the eyes of firefighters with families, he said, were worth multiples of regular shifts and so he was able to begin the new century with a significant balance of shift trades owed him.
Asked if city policy on city employees in the Legislature was informal or embodied in ordinance or written policy, Casey directed Nevada Journal to the secondary-employment section of the city’s human resources policy and procedures manual. Because that policy requires approval from the employee’s immediate supervisor and department head for any outside job, any anomalies in Oceguera’s long-standing participation in the Assembly would also reflect on Gillespie.
When Nevada Journal first sought to interview Gillespie and other department officials on Monday, the publication each time was referred to the office of the city attorney, which did not return calls. Even the department public information officer, Cedric Williams, declined to speak to a reporter.
On Tuesday, however, Assistant City Attorney Jeff Barr called Nevada Journal’s parent organization, the Nevada Policy Research Institute, and left word that Chief Gillespie would be available for the previously requested interview.
So — during the 2009 and 2011 legislatures — how much, in city spokeswoman Casey’s words, was Oceguera “working in Carson on City time”? His own remarks, like those of Chief Gillespie, indicate that the department’s official records of who, when and where personnel are “on-duty” — whether in the TeleStaff roster system or the city’s payroll reporting system — simply lack credibility.
In Oceguera’s own phrase, the numbers input into both the roster system and the payroll appear to primarily reflect, not reality, but “ease of coding.”
Steven Miller is the managing editor of Nevada Journal, a publication of the Nevada Policy Research Institute. For more coverage of Oceguera, please read “NLV fire department confirms Oceguera’s double-dipping.”