When it comes to overtime spending in the city workforce, it’s typically Boston police generating headlines. But, thanks in large part to an accounting technicality, the top overtime earner in the city workforce last year didn’t come from the force.
That crown belongs to a wire inspector named Keith Barry. Barry pulled in more than $171,000 in overtime last year, more than $3,000 than the next highest worker, and more than his base pay of $93,000. And of the top 10 overtime earners from the city’s 19,000-strong workforce, Barry is the only one who is not a cop.
It’s the second consecutive year Barry, who has worked as a wire inspector for the city since June 2012, has pulled in more OT than any other city employee. Over the last four years, a period during which Boston saw a tremendous amount of construction amid a building boom, Barry has made more than $676,000 in overtime.
The city has a total of 10 wire inspectors, including a chief and a supervisor. They are responsible for reviewing electrical permits, essentially making sure the electrical aspects of various projects are up to code. All told, this small force reviews about 13,000 electrical permits a year. Wire inspectors also perform inspections when a property owner complains about potential problems with their electrical system.
Lisa Timberlake, a spokeswoman for the Inspectional Services Department, where Barry works, said the reasons for the eye-popping OT numbers are myriad. One chief factor is that what constitutes “overtime” for ISD is different than Boston police, where overtime and detail pay are separated into two categories. For ISD, after-hours work paid for by third parties, what police would consider “details,” is lumped into overtime, according to the department.
In other words, most of the $171,000 in overtime Barry pulled in last year was paid by utility companies and others, as opposed to directly from city coffers.
Timberlake said last year Barry was paid nearly $153,000 for such work, which covered 774 inspections. The department, however, was not able to say how many total overtime hours Barry worked on those “third party” detail jobs that helped boost his pay so significantly.
He was also paid 44.5 hours of overtime last year and received more than $4,200 in travel pay. Additionally, due to another employee out on an extended leave of absence, Barry served temporarily as chief electrical inspector for about 3 months in 2021, said Timberlake. That meant his hourly pay rate increased to that of chief electrical inspector for that period, per the collective bargaining agreement that covers wire inspectors.
Overtime is offered to inspectors on a rotating basis determined by collective bargaining. It rotates based on seniority. Anyone can decline overtime. Some inspectors aren’t interested in after-hours work, others take any OT they can get, according to the department.
Barry actually made $4,000 more in overtime in 2020, the first year of the pandemic, even though the city imposed a six-week construction moratorium. The department offered various reasons for the overtime windfall that year. Projects on state-owned land, including Massport parcels, were not subject to the moratorium. That meant that work continued at Logan Airport and some projects in the Seaport, according to ISD. Barry is only one of two wire inspectors working for the city who is credentialed to perform work at Logan, the department said.
And after such a long stoppage, wire inspectors were in high demand once crews returned to worksites, said Timberlake. Another department official described that period as “gangbusters.”
The majority of overtime for wire inspectors comes from third-party contractors requesting after-hours work, detail work the contractors pay for, ISD said. Money for such work does not come from the general fund or operating budget. Tasks such as generator testing typically cannot be done during normal hours.
Additionally, ISD is a regulatory and enforcement agency that has to be able to respond to crises 24 hours a day. When power to a building gets shut off for any reason, including fires or other safety hazards, utility companies can’t turn it back on until an inspector certifies it’s safe.
Overtime in a different city department — Boston police — has received attention in recent years as part of a larger discussion about police reform. Boston police chronically exceed their annual overtime budget, and the department’s brass have told city leaders that reining in overtime is complicated because no one can predict how many officers may be injured at a given time, and therefore how many overtime shifts will be needed to backfill such vacancies.
At least 18 Boston police officers made more than $325,000 last year, take-home pay that in many instances was buoyed by overtime and detail dollars.
Additionally, allegations of police overtime fraud at an evidence warehouse is among the controversies to recently rock the department.
Police spending has become a bit of a political football in recent years, and this City Hall budget season promises more debate on the department’s overtime spending.
But whether city leaders will lock horns over the overtime pay of wire inspectors remains to be seen.