City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt said yesterday that the city overpaid a police attorney $34,500 in overtime in the past three years, despite what auditors say was his ineligibility for the excess pay.
Pratt raised the issue at the city Board of Estimates, while discussing a review of the contract for Gary C. May by her audit department. The former police sergeant became the Police Department's chief counsel in 1994.
City auditors said the city overcompensated May from 1996 to 1999 by allowing him to earn overtime. May is exempt from earning overtime because he was a salaried employee, said City Auditor Yovonda D. Brooks.
"Both the law department and Police Department failed to monitor the contract," Brooks said.
City officials disputed the contention, saying that May was entitled to overtime.
May is a former police sergeant who retired and was rehired the next day as the police department counsel after becoming an attorney. Pratt criticized the law department, noting that May's salary jumped from $45,000 to $65,000 in a day.
"I thought people got golden parachutes for leaving work, not for coming back to work," Pratt said.
May was recently transferred to the city Department of Public Works and is working in City Solicitor Otho M. Thompson's office. Thompson defended May's hiring and pay, stating that his experience as a police officer and an attorney was a department asset.
Thompson also disputed Pratt's claim on the overtime pay, saying that May was not exempt and deserved the overtime.
"There is no dispute that Mr. May exceeded the hours, and there is no dispute that he worked the hours," Thompson said.
May could not be reached for comment yesterday afternoon. An aide said he was at meetings yesterday out of the office. A spokesman for the Police Department directed all questions to Thompson.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke also took exception to Pratt's claims, insinuating that she was raising the issue at the public meeting for political gain. Pratt is running for re-election next week in Tuesday's Democratic primary.
"We were more than willing with the law department or the Police Department to work this out with the agencies," Schmoke said.
Pratt recommended that the money be repaid and that policies be instituted to prevent it from happening again. Schmoke accepted the recommendation and said he would discuss it with the law and police departments. Thompson, however, said he won't seek legal action to recover the money.
"He worked the hours and he was entitled to the pay," Thompson said.
In another legal matter, the city increased the amount of legal fees and expenses it expects to pay in its legal battle over access to Susquehanna River water.
The Susquehanna River Basin Commission has restricted the city's right to draw water from the river. The city claims it is exempt from the tristate commission's ruling and has filed a complaint in federal court.
In 1997, the city hired former City Solicitor Neal M. Janey and the Miles & Stockbridge law firm to handle the case for $100,000. Last year, the city added $100,000 and yesterday increased those fees by $50,000 plus $35,000 more for expenses.
The city hired outside counsel, Thompson said, because of the need for experience in regulatory affairs.
The five-member spending board also agreed to add city representatives to the South East Community Organization's planning group on what to do with the Fell's Point Recreation Pier.
The landmark gained national fame as the set for the television show "Homicide: Life on the Streets." The site has been unused since the show was canceled. SECO wants to return it to use as a community resource.