Exposing The Charter Commission’s Myths About City Payroll And Recording

I try as best I can on this blog to use language that is as restrained as possible but I have run into a situation where that standard is severely challenged.  I am sorry but the only way to describe the Charter Commission’s representation of the city’s payroll system is that it is egregiously inaccurate.  As they repeatedly point to the city’s payroll system to try to prove that the city is badly run  it bears special scrutiny.  I have repeatedly listened to representatives of the Charter Commission describe the city’s payroll system in a way that conjures up men with green visors and garters on their arms, slaving away at ledgers with pens and inkwells under globed lamps.  I guess I am setting myself up for the same criticism of hyperbole that I accuse others of but if you have sat through the meetings that I have you would be familiar with the insistent drumbeat of this particular attack.    Over and over again they describe the city system as utterly antiquated, relying on 19th century manual procedures rather than computers.

This is shamelessly inaccurate.  As just one example, the city has a biometric method for Department of Public Works employees to both sign in and out of work that seamlessly is linked to the payroll and benefits software.  It uses a finger print  reading devise to make it easy to both check in and out of work.  This is not some future hope.  This is the way recording at DPW is done.

At the police department, the final training for sergeants, who are responsible for supervising the entry of data for the new automated system responsible for overseeing the process, was to occur on September 24 and go live on October 1.  As far as I know, this has happened.  The police record system for time and payroll is entirely automated.

The fire department has its own software system.  There are plans underway to provide a bridge between the fire department’s system and the city’s main payroll software.  Likewise the main city hall employees system is under development now with a launch time by the end of the year.  There is no question that these projects are not complete but it would be dishonest not to acknowledge that they are well underway.

Jeff Altamari has been one of the most outspoken members of the Charter Commission on this issue.  Now Mr. Altamari may criticize the city for not moving faster.  Hey, things can always be done faster although as one who has dealt with deployments of software I can tell you this is always a long, slow process.  What he cannot ethically do but repeatedly does is paint a picture of a primitive recording system hopelessly mired in a past age.  He also cannot honestly simply assert that the departments have not been cooperating in computerizing the reporting system.  To listen to Mr. Altamari one would assume that nothing has been done to automate the city payroll process and the only way to start to do this would be to bring on board a city manager.

Given his extensive background in accounting, Mr. Altamari should know that these things take time.  The city is not some large corporation (Mr. Altamari career was in the corporate energy field) with deep pockets.  Employees are busy doing their regular work.  It is challenging for them to take the time to assist in the design of a software project of this magnitude but they are doing it.

The mid managers from all departments cooperate by meeting weekly working on this project. They have worked well together and they have achieved a great deal.  I would like to challenge Jeff Altamari to give a credible source to support his claim that the city was ever hobbled by a lack of cooperation between the departments (this theme of isolated silos is another well beaten path of the Commission).  I would like to hear him acknowledge the achievements that the city has accomplished.  He has made some very serious accusations and it is time that he provides some documentation for his claims or withdraws them 

Commissioner Mathiesen is one of the staunchest advocates for charter change but he supported Commissioner Madigan at the September 19 meeting when she documented the city’s progress toward automation.

Jeff Altamari has a record of success in the corporate world.  There is no question that he has a keen intellect.  He would better serve this community if his analysis of the city’s system showed some nuance in recognizing what it has achieved.  Selling  the public is not the same as educating them. 

Below is Commissioner Michele Madigan’s presentation to the council from September 19th.

From the September 19 Council Meeting Re Madigan

  1. Discussion: Time & Attendance Update

The City Staff, across the various departments, have been working diligently on finalizing the implementation of the NOVATIME Time and Attendance System. The Time and Attendance project began in June of 2013, and with the assistance of our City Labor Attorney, the City engaged in a technical spec review of every department, meetings with New York State government approved vendors, and finally a thorough RFP process, which led to the award of bid in December of 2015. Since that time the Finance Office has been managing the project to ensure proper implementation, security, and to improve overall efficiencies. NOVATIME is integrated with the City’s payroll software, MUNIS, allowing a data file to be seamlessly transferred from one system to another, eliminating most manual entry.

On January 1, 2017, DPW Laborers went live on the system, which allows them to use biometric finger terminals whereby each employee scans their finger at the start and end of their shift. These DPW employees also use these terminals to request time off, with Supervisors approving any requests, as well as weekly timesheets, all within the system itself. The terminals and necessary computers were installed in cooperation with the IT staff and City DPW Electricians. The DPW staff was very supportive of the change and they continue to work well with it. NOVATIME replaces the aged time clock system previously used by DPW. This process, in which an employee’s card was inserted into a machine and time stamped, was not integrated with MUNIS, the machines were no longer replaceable, and the process had no security measures to ensure the identity of the employee.

The City Police and Fire Departments required additional time and attendance modules, which in turn required the Finance Department to set public hearings to amend the capital budget for these modules. The Police Department is expected to go live with NOVATIME on October 1, 2017. This effort has primarily been lead by Assistant Chief John Catone, who has been inputting schedules and shift information into the Scheduler Module. The Police Department will use NOVATIME not only to track hours worked but also to schedule employees and maintain accruals. The officers will be clocked in and out daily at roll call by the Sergeants. The Police department will also be able to request time off through the system and Supervisors can use the system to approve requests for leave and approve the timesheets. The Sergeants will receive additional training the week of September 24th, just in time for the go live date on October 1st. Schedules, time worked, and use of accruals are currently tracked manually by the police department supervisors, and this information is manually entered into MUNIS by the DPS Office Manager. The new process is expected to reduce the chance of human error, and streamline the process for all parties involved.

City Hall employees will be final group brought onto NOVATIME. These employees will use their desktop computers to clock in and out and request time off, with supervisors making any and all necessary decisions through the system itself. In addition, the Finance Office and Public Safety are working with NOVATIME to develop a file transfer for the Fire Department. Currently, the Fire Department has a separate computer system, ERS, that they use to track payroll data, as well as much other necessary departmental information. A program is currently in the works to seamlessly move the data from ERS to MUNIS, which would improve the current, more manual process.

The implementation of the Time and Attendance System will continue to improve efficiencies and accountability, and also provide for a better audit trail. I am very pleased with the progress we have made to date. I especially want to thank Christine Gillmett-Brown who has been the primary manager on this project, along with Florence Wheeler (Payroll Administrator), Kevin Kling (IT Manager), Kathy Moran (DPW Office Manager), and Danielle Willard (DPS Office Manager), for their commitment to this project and their efforts to ensure the system is efficient and effective.

I have tried my best to provide updates on the Time and Attendance roll-out regularly to both the City Council and the Public, including public hearings because of the ongoing nature of this Capital Budget project. The timing of this update was fortuitous, as lately City Hall, and Finance in particular, have been criticized recently by the Charter Review Commission for what they have deemed an “antiquated” payroll systems. Just last week in a Reader’s View by Jeff Altamari, a member of the Charter Review Commission, I was directly challenged with the following statement: “Commissioners are not incentivized to implement new technology that could lead to efficiency and cost savings. No comprehensive time & attendance system supporting payroll? Why not? It’s 2017.”

Mr. Altamari went on to state that “Timely technology and infrastructure upgrades, as we commonly see in business and government, result in future savings and efficiency. Commissioners cannot engage in meaningful long-term upgrade planning, requiring cross-functional cooperation and multi-year ownership of the planning process.” To borrow a phrase Mr. Altamari used later in his piece when referencing Commissioners across City Hall, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Had you, or any other member of the Charter Review Commission, bother to interview the City IT Director, or the City Payroll Administrator, or spend more than 5 minutes with the Director of Finance, you would have learned about the upgraded Time and Attendance System, as well as the multi-year process it went through with involvement of every Department across City Hall.

I would ask that this blatant misrepresentation by the Charter Review Commission of our city processes and systems stop. It’s both petty and unfair to the hard work done by employees across City Hall, and I have heard it referenced time and time again. Make whatever case you have on the facts, not on fabrications or untruths.

(Note per CGB: The City approved in the 2012 Capital budget money to purchase a Time and Attendance system. Ken Ivins did nothing with it. Commissioner Madigan came in and started a lengthy RFP process to ensure the right system was purchased. )


One thought on “Exposing The Charter Commission’s Myths About City Payroll And Recording”

  1. I found it somewhat interesting that a friend I ran into at the beans mentioned that she’s taking note of the addresses of all the residential locations of the “YES” signs in town. It’s like finding out who’s who with the menorahs; et alia, during Christmastime. (lol)


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