Following multiple complaints and years of investigations by city and federal officials into allegations of overtime abuse in the law enforcement unit that monitors San Francisco park facilities, the city has provisionally agreed to pay $250,000 to whistle-blower Mike Horan, a white former park ranger who claimed to be a victim of race discrimination.
The Board of Supervisors Rules Committee will consider the proposed settlement today. But, despite the uproar Horan’s claim caused, questionable overtime practices persist in the parks unit, according to a Bay Citizen investigation.
Back in 2006, Horan’s initial complaints to the city looked like ordinary allegations of workplace cliquishness. Horan claimed that his supervisor, chief park ranger Marcus Santiago arranged work schedules to ensure he and select friends got the vast majority of time-and-a-half overtime pay.
However, a subsequent city audit and a federal investigation following Horan’s complaint to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission suggested overtime hoarding was among broader problems with San Francisco’s parks security team.
Internal government memos and other records backed Horan’s allegation that Santiago had turned his division into an overtime generator for himself and a close circle of Asian American friends. For at least six years, Santiago, who is of Chinese and Filipino heritage, has more than doubled his base pay through overtime.
Santiago "favored Asians over non-Asians in the Park Patrol Division with regard to hiring, promotion, and overtime allocation from January 2006 to in or about December 2010," wrote EEOC district director Michael Baldonado in a 2011 letter to the city.
GPS monitors suggested some of his fellow rangers slept through shifts, or didn’t even show up, yet still logged overtime hours. One of Santiago’s fellow supervisors held a second, full-time law enforcement job, yet still billed San Francisco for overtime on top of his full-time Park Patrol pay, records show.
Horan claimed that as a result of this closed buddy system he had almost no access to the lucrative overtime pay. In 2006, for example, Horan was allowed seven hours of overtime. His co-worker Jose Mitra worked 687 overtime hours that year while Santiago worked 1,558.
After he complained, “Horan was threatened physically by a number of fellow employees with knowledge and assent of his supervisor,” according to his 2009 lawsuit filed after he became frustrated with the city’s responses.
The proposed monetary settlement with Horan follows discussions between the San Francisco city attorney’s office and the federal EEOC, which had urged reforms in the management of San Francisco’s Department of Recreation and Parks.
Had the city failed to settle with Horan, the EEOC had the option of referring the case to the U.S. Justice Department and making public investigative reports containing detailed allegations of Park Patrol misconduct.
The San Francisco city attorney’s office declined to say whether the city had agreed to any Park Patrol reforms as part of the proposed settlement with Horan. But city payroll and other records suggest that promised reforms have not touched some of the investigation's key findings.
A plan to add a new Recreation and Parks supervisor who would oversee Santiago, discussed during settlement talks with Horan in May, had not yet resulted in a hire by mid-July.
Santiago and some of his friends, meanwhile, have continued to earn significant overtime pay. In 2011-12, Santiago added $66,904 in overtime pay, and $13,961 in premium pay while on call to his $53,107 base salary, according to city payroll records. This was up from $62,907 in overtime pay and $10,798 in premium pay the year before.
Santiago’s friend Jose Mitra earned $37,878 in 2011-12 overtime, compared with $42,486 the previous year. Between 2007 and 2010, Mitra had added annually to his salary with extra pay of between $31,000 and $45,000 per year.
Park Patrol employee Iris Gonzalez, described by colleagues as a Santiago ally, earned $16,934 in 2011-12 overtime pay, up from $15,252 in 2010-11. Between 2007 and 2010, Gonzalez had added overtime and other special pay of between $10,000 and $24,000 to her annual pay salary.
Neither Mitra nor Gonzalez could be reached for comment Wednesday.
In addition, Thomas Tom, a patrol supervisor, was hired to work full time for the Park Patrol in 2008 – earlier in Santiago’s tenure as chief park ranger. But Tom did not quit his full-time job as an officer with the California Lottery Police. State and city payroll records show Tom was scheduled full time with both agencies until 2011-12, when he cut back his hours with the Park Patrol.
Santiago referred questions to the Recreation and Parks public relations department, which referred The Bay Citizen to the city attorney’s office. A city attorney spokesman declined to comment.
Tom did not respond to emailed questions or to a voice message left on his personal phone. A parks spokeswoman had previously said Dennis Kern, Recreation and Parks operations director, approved Tom’s dual employment.
Horan, a former New York City police officer, has said he cannot comment until the settlement is approved. The San Francisco mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Horan’s original allegations.
In a 2011 letter to the EEOC, the city attorney’s office stated that Santiago did not give himself more overtime hours as a result of discrimination.
“Those officers were more eager to work the overtime,” the letter said. “Director of operations Dennis Kern stated during his interview that to the extent Santiago mismanaged the distribution of overtime, it was not based on race but rather on the fact that he had too many responsibilities.”
Evaluation ignores complaints
After Santiago came to work with the San Francisco Park Patrol in 2000, and was promoted to head Park Patrol officer in 2003, he proved his value to the department by encouraging community groups to back a new Recreation and Parks event security policy. It required promoters of concerts and other events in the city’s parks and park buildings to hire park rangers for extra security and pay them overtime.
The new policy created hundreds of hours of extra security work for Park Patrol staff and a new source of revenue for the Recreation and Parks budget.
His superiors appreciated his achievements. In 2007, Santiago’s supervisor, Kern, wrote in an evaluation that “Marcus Santiago’s performance throughout this reporting period has been stellar.”
The evaluation failed to acknowledge complaints piling up in the Park Patrol unit.
Representatives of event promoters, including boxing promotions company Hard Knox Promotions, complained in interviews that park rangers in 2010 did not show up for their paid-for shifts at the Karim Mayfield-Sergio de la Torre boxing match at Kezar Pavilion. Hard Knox promoter Phil diMauro declined to comment this week about whether he had noticed the same problem during recent events.
In December 2006, three officers, including Horan, complained about overtime favoritism.
They said Santiago took advantage of the unit’s expansion to arrange work schedules to ensure that the maximum possible overtime hours went to him. That year, Santiago had personally billed for an average of more than 73 hours of work a week, while taking 83 hours vacation pay the same year. He maintained a similar workload for the next four years, according to city payroll records and the federal investigator’s report.
People who complained were met with discipline and higher on-the-job scrutiny, complaints said. Between 2006 and 2010, discrimination complaints by Horan and other officers resulted in at least six investigations by city officials.
Series of investigations
As investigators began to look into Horan’s complaints, evidence suggested Santiago was attempting to cover his tracks.
In 2007, a city auditor investigated complaints that Santiago failed to post overtime assignments, meaning that only he and people he confided in knew they existed. After the auditor asked about this allegation, three officers told a federal investigator they were instructed to sign a stack of forms stating they had declined to accept overtime assignments. The forms had been backdated to suggest they represented overtime assignments offered during the 2007-08 period under investigation, according to an EEOC memorandum.
The EEOC memo also said that when a city auditor sought to review Santiago’s phone records, the chief ranger emailed back that that would be impossible: “I would like to inform you that prior to retrieving the information you requested off my phone, I dropped it in the water.”
When a city audit concluded Santiago had manipulated the department’s overtime system to his own benefit, Kern, the supervisor, instructed Santiago to design safeguards to prevent himself from doing it again, the memo said.
Dissatisfied with the city’s response, Horan continued pressing complaints, filing a 2009 lawsuit and lodging the EEOC complaint. As a result, the federal agency assigned an investigator to interview parks employees and review time sheets, cellphone GPS data logs and other internal parks documents.
The inquiry concluded that Santiago had failed to stop himself from hoarding overtime.
Horan was “denied overtime opportunities, subjected to a hostile work environment, disciplined, suspended, and constructively discharged based on his race,” said a 2011 letter from the EEOC’s district director.
The EEOC also turned up information showing that Santiago had not reported on his Park Patrol job application that he had previously been dismissed from the Oakland Police Department for excessive use of force and unauthorized possession of government property.
Santiago wasn’t the only Park Patrol officer who’d been dismissed from a previous law enforcement job. Tom, one of three Park Patrol supervisors, had been fired in 1995 from the Vallejo Police Department for allegedly kicking a suspect in the head. When Tom in 2001 applied for a job with the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, a background check made public when Tom appealed the sheriff’s decision not to hire him revealed he’d repeatedly accepted gratuities from local businesses while on his rounds.
This story was edited by Amy Pyle and copy edited by Christine Lee.
The Bay Citizen is part of the independent, nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting, the country’s largest investigative reporting team. For more, visit www.baycitizen.org. Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.