Jim Edison, then a sergeant, testifies in 2015 about the Omaree Varela case. Edison was fired in November 2021 for being untruthful during an internal investigation into his overtime claims, which according to a recent external audit amounted to over $137,000 for 2,260 hours. He was eventually reinstated. (Greg Sorber/)
From February 1, 2020, to May 21, 2021, Jim Edison — who oversaw the Albuquerque Police Department’s COVID-19 response — billed the city for 2,260 hours of overtime. That’s an average of about 34 hours of overtime every week for 67 weeks.
He was paid $137,396 for that overtime, according to an external audit completed in late October, which the Journal obtained in December.
In November 2021, following an internal investigation into his overtime claims, Edison was fired for being untruthful during the investigation,
Police officials have said he was taking advantage of the terms within the collective bargaining agreement between the city and the union to claim more overtime than he actually worked. It was the latest in a string of scandals regarding Albuquerque Police Department officers and overtime pay.
But then, in May 2022, after reaching a settlement agreement with the city, Edison was reinstated as a lieutenant. He agreed to self-demote by November and is now a sergeant.
Part of the conditions of the agreement included that the city will conduct an independent audit of his pay records and “determine whether his claims for overtime were consistent with the law.” If the audit determined Edison was overpaid “the city will first confer with employee for reimbursement and may thereafter pursue collection of overpaid amounts through appropriate judicial process.”
Now that audit has been completed. The city has not initiated any claims for reimbursement based on the audit’s findings.
Gilbert Gallegos, an APD spokesman, said he couldn’t comment on the case, including whether the city will pursue reimbursement, except to point to the ongoing litigation.
Raymond Sloane, a partner with HKA Global who has more than 45 years of financial consulting experience, conducted the audit. He stated that after analyzing all the records “it is my opinion that Lt. Edison claimed and was paid for overtime not in conformity of the CBA, City Policy, APD’s Standard Operating Procedures, and statements from City and APD personnel, taken together.”
He said there may be a claim against Edison’s overtime and he divided the payment into categories including Federal Fair Labor Standards Act overtime and overtime immediately preceding or after a shift, claimed in two-hour increments, for training, to provide COVID statistics and for call to service.
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Sloane said the city and APD informed him that Edison was “not entitled to FLSA overtime because he is an overtime-exempt employee as defined by the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act and the State of New Mexico Wage Act” and “his duties were exclusively managerial and administrative, and thus there is no basis for Lt. Edison to receive statutory overtime pay.”
However, Edison’s attorney Tim White said he’s “clearly not management” since he has always been a member of the union, which doesn’t represent anyone above lieutenants.
“When we get into this in litigation they’re going to be unable to come up with a single shred of evidence, paper, testimony, whatever form that shows that Jim is an exempt employee under the FLSA,” White said. “I mean it’s borderline fraudulent to make that statement. It is fraudulent for the city to say that about him.”
Edison is continuing to pursue his lawsuit against the city for breach of contract. A trial is scheduled for October 2023.
White said he thinks the city violated the terms of the settlement agreement because it had not paid his client backpay of about $10,000 and because it filed a counterclaim saying he was overpaid before the audit was completed.
White also took issue with the original internal affairs investigation as well as the external audit.
He said the internal investigator erred when she compared Edison’s procedures for claiming callback overtime to sergeants in other units and she mistakenly believed he had not met with Human Resources to get his overtime approved in the first couple months of his assignment.
He said Edison, who had a degree in accounting, was meticulous in keeping track of what he was doing. He showed the Journal a stack of papers a couple of inches high that he said was from the work Edison was doing in that time period to coordinate testing, contact tracing and quarantining for APD employees, city employees and more during an unprecedented situation
“This all starts when the pandemic begins and Jim is appointed by deputy chief Michael Smathers to head up APD’s response to COVID,” White said. “They not-so-tongue-in-cheek referred to him as the COVID Czar. They called Susan, his wife, the COVID widow sometimes because he was at work 24/7/365 for the entirety of the time that he was managing APD’s COVID response.”