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Published August 13 2010

Hours questioned in North Dakota state office

North Dakota’s Democratic-NPL secretary of state candidate is accusing his Republican opponent of poor management and inefficient practices because of what he calls “egregious amounts of overtime” paid to employees of the office.

Corey Mock, a Grand Forks legislator, said he looked into the overtime hours after seeing mishaps this year from Secretary of State Al Jaeger’s office – such as a libertarian candidate accidentally being left off the June primary ballot because of misplaced paperwork.

But, Jaeger – who’s seeking re-election this year after 18 years in office – said Mock’s claims of excessive overtime don’t accurately reveal the whole picture and are an unfair attack on state employees.

According to public data obtained by Mock’s campaign, 20 secretary of state employees accumulated more than 3,600 hours of overtime during the 10 months from July 2009 through April 2010.

Taken on average, each employee would have had 181 hours of overtime – almost double the average amount paid to ­employees across North Dakota state government, Mock said.

Additionally, 22 employees received upward of 7,200 hours in overtime pay during the 2007-09 biennium, or an average of 327 OT hours each, Mock said.

“To me, this is a clear sign of mismanagement,” Mock said during a press conference Thursday in Fargo. “It’s either a waste of money, a case of overworking staff, or maybe it’s both.”

Mock did not have information on how much money the overtime hours equated to in employee pay but did request it Thursday from Jaeger.

Jaeger called Mock’s statements “a wrong analysis and a distortion of the facts” and an “inappropriate” attack on state employees.

Because of North Dakota’s booming economy, the Secretary of State’s Office has dealt with an increased demand for services, Jaeger said.

The secretary of state oversees elections, registers businesses, licenses contractors and regulates boxing and mixed-martial arts, among other duties.

Despite the significantly higher workload, the number of employees has remained the same because state government leaders have asked agencies to hold the line on requests for additional staff, Jaeger said.

But, he added, employees “very seldom” are required to work overtime, and most volunteer for the extra hours.

Jaeger said the cost of overtime hours during the 2007-2009 biennium amounted to 7 percent of the department’s salary budget, or about $190,200.

Meanwhile, about 4.4 percent – or nearly $140,000 – of the department’s current biennium budget has gone to cover overtime pay.

State employees are paid time and a half once they exceed 40 hours of work per week.

Mock voted in the Legislature to approve the Secretary of State’s departmental budget, Jaeger said.

“The cost of overtime is a better use of taxpayer money and is a better investment than adding full-time employees with benefits,” Jaeger said. “My record has clearly been one of prudent and effective use of the funds entrusted to this office.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541