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MARC CHASE: Some Lake County jailers earn more than warden in $1.6 million 'runaway' overtime

It's a $1.58 million annual taxpayer expense that could be jeopardizing the safety of government workers in one of the most potentially dangerous locations in Northwest Indiana.

Those conclusions can be drawn from a recent computer-assisted probe I conducted into overtime wages paid to 227 Lake County Jail officers in 2016.

Even more disturbing than the 100-hour-plus work weeks some jailers averaged last year is the seeming inability or unwillingness of the folks in charge to do anything about it.

Raking it in

Few jobs afford rank-in-file employees the opportunity to earn more than their managers.

But five Lake County corrections officers earned about as much or more than the jail warden because of overtime wages last year, county payroll data show.

The highest-paid jailer in 2016, Sonia Medrano, earned $92,417.89 on the strength of a whopping $56,639.94 in overtime.

Medrano's pay last year was more than $20,000 higher than her boss, jail warden Ed Davies, who earned $71,200 in 2016.

She wasn't alone in rank-in-file jailers who earned nearly as much or more than the warden.

Corrections officers Ebou Jallow, who earned $69,756.21, including $34,842.03 in overtime; Mark Collins, who earned $72,100.73, including $32,172.88 in overtime; Alex Garcia, who earned $84,805.04, including $48,940.12 in overtime; and Edward Mattingly, who earned $87,414.76 on the strength of $50,651.71 in overtime, rounded out the top five.

Of 227 corrections guards compensated by the county in 2016, 42 supplemented their base salaries by $10,000 or more in overtime, the payroll data revealed.

Collectively, county finance officials report taxpayers paid jail corrections officers more than $1.5 million in 2016 overtime.

Runaway expense

Lake County government financial director, Dante Rondelli, dubbed county jail overtime as a "runaway expense" in recent years, and the numbers back up the claim.

Since Sheriff John Buncich took office in his recent two-term tour as the county's top elected lawman, jailer overtime has increased from $591,661 in 2011 to the $1.58 million 2016 figure.

That's a growth of 168 percent during the sheriff's current tenure.

It's understandably a maddening expense for county government and finance officials.

Year after year, the sheriff approaches the Lake County Council, hat in hand, often requesting hundreds of thousands of dollars in more money than what had initially been budgeted for the respective years, largely because of burgeoning jailer overtime.

Buncich sometimes makes these requests for additional county funds after jailers already have worked the overtime, meaning the county is backed into a corner to approve the funds.

Imagine it's your responsibility to keep the family books. A finite amount of money flows to the family bank account, and you clearly communicate all family members must live within the budget.

Then your other family members rack up extra expenses, hand you the receipts and say, "OK, now it's your job to find this extra money we've already spent."

It's easy to see why Rondelli, the County Council's chief bookkeeper, literally gasps every time the sheriff takes the podium at county council meetings to seek additional funds.

When do they sleep?

Perhaps even more concerning, though, to some county officials, this columnist and even the sheriff himself are the possible effects the glut of overtime hours can have on the safety and security of both jailers and inmates.

Medrano, the highest paid jailer in 2016, amassed a total of 3,591.6 overtime hours. Divided among 52 work weeks in a year, that's an average of 69 overtime hours per week beyond her regular hours.

The county's second-highest paid jailer in 2016, Ed Mattingly, wasn't far behind.

County records show he amassed 3,170 overtime hours that year, for an average of 60 overtime hours per work week.

Mattingly, 60, told me last week he can handle the mammoth hours and needs the money to bolster what otherwise would be paltry jailer wages.

He said he regularly volunteers for the overtime — as do the handful of other top-paid jailers — because he wants to keep his debt low in preparation for retirement.

It's tough not to admire Mattingly's work ethic.

And even county finance officials admit the sheriff's department has filed all the proper paperwork noting jailers appear to have actually worked the overtime being claimed.

The proper documentation appears to exist for 93,149 overtime hours worked by corrections officers in 2016.

But it's impossible not to question the impact such a work schedule could have on jailers’ ability to effectively guard some of the most potentially dangerous people in the Region.

Buncich recently spoke with me in his office, noting all of the overtime and payroll hours and pay I tabulated and analyzed were "100 percent correct."

He also was quick to acknowledge the hours jailers are working can’t help but compromise sharpness or alertness in a job that demands both qualities in spades.

It's a no-brainer. No one wants tired or burned out jail guards watching over alleged murderers, rapists or other violent offenders who help make up the jail population.

When some jailers average 60 or more hours of overtime per week, when are they sleeping?

It was a question I asked Buncich, followed up by, "If some of these guards are literally living at the jail, how can you be sure they're not sleeping on the job, in a corner, somewhere?"

Buncich said he couldn't be sure.

"I can tell you they're physically here," the sheriff said.

Buncich also noted that guards working in excess of 60 overtime hours in a week may very well not be mentally present.

Who's to blame?

Despite all of the concerns about the toll such hours can take on jailers' sharpness, Buncich virtually threw his hands in the air when asked what can be done to fix the issue.

The sheriff blames ongoing federal oversight and mandates for the overtime excess.

Since 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice have been overseeing mandated improvements at the jail following a series of inmate suicides, infectious disease outbreaks and inmate injuries.

Buncich claims federal mandates arising from that probe have forced the need, based on staffing, for massive overtime hours and expenses at the jail.

It might seem like a reasonable explanation on face value.

However, the Lake County Council has authorized, and the sheriff has hired, 42 new jail guards within recent years, all to help meet the federal mandates without necessitating the overtime.

"We hired 42 people to alleviate this," Lake County Councilman Dan Dernulc, R-Highland, told me last week after reviewing the overtime data I culled. "The sheriff controls this issue."

Dernulc, who serves on a committee negotiating with the jailers’ union, said he also has grave concerns for the safety of some jailers given the glut of hours worked.

"Is this safe for the guards or the prisoners?" Dernulc asked. "You have to look at these hours and say how much is too much? This is a very physical job with a number of unruly folks in there."

A jail officers' union official I contacted last week declined comment for now, saying he would take my questions concerning overtime hours and expenses to his attorneys before commenting. I never heard back.

Dernulc also expressed concern when he learned Buncich told me he couldn't guarantee some jailers weren't sleeping on the job.

"He needs to find out," Dernulc said.

County finance official Rondelli agreed the buck stops with Bunchich on the proper management of overtime hours and expenses.

Fixing the problem

Buncich argued that a shorter work day could help alleviate issues of jail guard rest and alertness. He said he has received resistance from the jailers' union and county council when asking for guards to work 8-hour workdays, rather than the 12-hour shifts they currently work.

But Dernulc, Rondelli and I fail to see how such a move would alleviate the swirling vortex of overtime within the county lockup.

Even if he wanted to tackle this beast of money and man hours, Buncich would have trouble finding support.

As many already know, he's under federal indictment for felony bribery in an unrelated towing scandal. Buncich's chief deputy already has pleaded guilty. As long as the specter of those accusations hang over his head, Buncich will have zero clout in fixing this and other problems within his jail.

He's also in the heart of his second-consecutive term as sheriff, meaning by Indiana law, county voters must elect a new sheriff in 2018.

Whoever assumes the office must make a priority out of cleaning up the overtime largesse plaguing the jail.

Strong leadership and the ability to unite the council and jailers' union behind a solution should be a top quality of any prospective candidate.

Taxpayers should put the future sheriff, whoever that may be, on notice: Blaming a federal probe, aimed at making the jail safer, for overworked guards and runaway expenses is a nonstarter of leadership.

Table: Corrections officer pay in 2016

Last Name First Name Total 2016 Pay Total 2016 Overtime Pay Summary of Overtime Hours Average Overtime Hours Per Week
Medrano Sonia $92,417.89 $56,639.94 3,591.64 69.07
Mattingly Edward $87,414.76 $50,651.71 3,170.25 60.97
Garcia Alex $84,805.04 $48,940.12 3,196.63 61.47
Collins Mark $72,100.73 $32,172.88 1,794.38 34.51
Jallow Ebou $69,756.21 $34,842.03 2,275.37 43.76
Laurent Andre $63,865.72 $28,784.76 1,879.87 36.15
Starkey Rickey $62,322.00 $25,763.69 1,618.12 31.12
Gatewood Sigmund $58,298.92 $26,208.75 1,711.75 32.92
Powell Jessie $56,322.07 $20,627.93 1,300.62 25.01
Rodriguez Matthew $55,617.76 $20,038.03 1,272.50 24.47
Percy Robert $55,601.76 $19,978.09 1,263.75 24.30
Johnson Almita $53,524.34 $18,231.73 1,163.12 22.37
Sterk Richard $53,416.84 $19,336.53 1,263.38 24.30
Zomanty Nicole $53,304.56 $19,437.01 1,273.50 24.49
Pressel Tammy $52,617.94 $17,367.34 1,109.38 21.33
O'Connor Kimberly $52,404.56 $12,361.17 696.00 13.38
Buck Brian $52,081.80 $17,286.65 1,104.87 21.25
Graan Deborah $50,958.34 $16,194.60 1,026.75 19.75
Brown Yolanda $50,537.02 $10,584.58 596.38 11.47
Lyles Jamecia $50,358.40 $14,793.64 937.62 18.03
Gonzales Georgette $50,293.42 $14,860.31 932.75 17.94
Carter Michael $49,630.14 $15,005.80 978.50 18.82
Goad James $49,298.36 $13,536.64 851.25 16.37
Elko Ricky $48,905.55 $13,243.33 837.25 16.10
Kutrieb Mark $48,365.87 $2,753.23 151.38 2.91
Smith Charles $47,985.12 $13,498.79 883.25 16.99
Neary Ryan $47,933.46 $8,753.63 490.63 9.44
Parker Kimberly $47,919.74 $13,545.41 847.50 16.30
Matthews Jennifer $47,779.93 $12,576.88 790.37 15.20
Reeves Marcus $47,448.86 $12,315.47 783.75 15.07
Smith Carrie $47,406.87 $12,471.68 790.25 15.20
Biddings Jerron $47,098.45 $11,689.65 742.75 14.28
Roberts Dorian $46,992.35 $8,948.72 498.37 9.58
Peak Michael $46,552.87 $9,802.71 604.50 11.63
Leto Phyllis $46,491.84 $6,220.24 344.63 6.63
Windom La'Shonda $46,410.48 $11,824.11 771.63 14.84
Duffin Priscilla $46,289.08 $13,594.81 888.13 17.08
Covarrubias Javier $46,182.13 $11,694.48 763.62 14.69
Dodds Alicea $45,715.45 $9,072.58 563.13 10.83
Irby Urshela $45,520.97 $10,419.56 658.50 12.66
Fravel Lloyd $45,464.10 $9,703.38 614.37 11.81
Rodriguez Alfonso $45,414.07 $10,523.55 664.63 12.78
Gartley Javan $45,294.13 $12,015.54 785.38 15.10
Akey David $44,967.80 $10,959.87 716.13 13.77
Knight Kevin $44,773.00 $11,405.78 743.75 14.30
Stack Deborah $44,556.62 $8,464.92 520.88 10.02
Phillips Tracy $44,528.21 $10,334.86 676.75 13.01
Bruno Robert $44,347.40 $10,185.11 666.75 12.82
Padilla Rosa $44,220.19 $9,176.09 582.37 11.20
Wilridge Meoshia $44,101.23 $10,491.41 686.38 13.20
Watts Richard $44,001.29 $9,253.09 605.75 11.65
Mansfield Coty $43,961.62 $10,295.37 671.75 12.92
Frazier Herbert $43,602.21 $9,391.94 613.00 11.79
Hines Ramon $43,420.98 $8,904.18 565.75 10.88
Donnelly Joshua $43,410.59 $9,818.84 640.75 12.32
Leoni Ryan $43,235.32 $9,287.27 605.75 11.65
Jarrette Blake $43,204.60 $8,994.33 587.25 11.29
Cook Richard $43,199.55 $8,132.96 520.25 10.00
Duque Rosemary $43,101.86 $8,551.45 553.13 10.64
Burke Kristine $42,540.62 $7,175.05 453.50 8.72
Davies Todnie $42,403.98 $7,578.92 480.25 9.24
Ferguson Ta'Ronda $42,394.08 $8,997.10 588.13 11.31
Poe Daniel $42,326.71 $8,895.17 580.13 11.16
Svetic Ronald $42,291.70 $715.79 42.50 0.82
Hosea Tamara $42,232.92 $6,500.47 409.12 7.87
Stozek Jeffrey $42,210.59 $2,560.09 143.00 2.75
Reeves Kemper $42,043.38 $3,220.55 177.75 3.42
Prieto Victor $41,491.93 $7,529.70 492.25 9.47
Ryan Jason $41,491.03 $7,916.78 516.50 9.93
Dailey Dan $41,463.55 $7,009.56 434.50 8.36
Zubrick Lauren $41,416.32 $6,042.02 383.38 7.37
Eisin Michael $41,246.20 $7,824.06 511.12 9.83
Allen Sean $41,238.44 $6,679.77 436.13 8.39
Pierce Faye $41,138.07 $7,138.80 449.13 8.64
McDaniel Sharyman $40,988.66 $996.44 54.75 1.05
Cox Kimberly $40,607.85 $1,722.54 96.50 1.86
Miller Kevin $40,485.56 $1,996.91 112.50 2.16
Dennis Peter $40,352.00 $6,574.04 415.62 7.99
Mummery Scott $40,218.74 $91.42 5.00 0.10
Fotinos Pete $40,164.97 $1,009.09 53.75 1.03
Rodman James $40,021.14 $6,160.37 391.25 7.52
Jacobson Richard $40,006.79 $3,854.71 240.00 4.62
Theil Dale $39,930.43 $5,978.92 389.87 7.50
May David $39,908.59 $4,841.18 298.75 5.75
Marcrom Shelly $39,463.22 $5,439.66 356.75 6.86
Lonkar Justin $39,437.27 $4,861.61 317.25 6.10
Nichols Shawn $39,436.64 $5,494.37 358.63 6.90
Durocher Glenn $39,393.18 $4,900.83 320.25 6.16
Jusevitch Amy $39,368.38 $5,656.98 362.00 6.96
Speichert Karry $39,299.95 $6,047.74 394.62 7.59
Peters Michael $39,260.04 $5,781.16 377.38 7.26
Espinoza Marisela $39,213.58 $4,526.94 296.13 5.69
Stanford Romel $39,197.71 $5,415.62 353.38 6.80
Randle Audrey $39,111.64 $4,114.88 261.00 5.02
Anderson Christopher $38,848.83 $6,841.31 448.37 8.62
Fields Alex $38,739.94 $3,563.80 225.87 4.34
Gallegos Alex $38,680.96 $4,451.11 290.25 5.58
Abernathy Jacob $38,676.12 $5,359.88 350.63 6.74
Holley Gretchen $38,665.81 $4,139.36 256.87 4.94
Saavedra Esmeralda $38,621.56 $3,956.16 251.87 4.84
Cockrell Jared $38,603.08 $4,021.40 262.75 5.05
Toth Diann $38,573.08 $3,866.75 252.38 4.85
Lyles Tashana $38,546.45 $4,992.22 326.00 6.27
Thompson Vanessa $38,473.01 $3,419.11 216.62 4.17
Lumsdon William $38,439.64 $3,729.48 236.38 4.55
Traxler Grant $38,436.66 $4,131.00 269.37 5.18
Wilson Christopher $38,409.04 $4,425.43 288.75 5.55
Krieg Cathy $38,379.91 $4,101.10 254.50 4.89
Borman Kylie $38,354.98 $4,002.54 261.50 5.03
Rowe Michael $38,275.92 $4,085.29 266.63 5.13
Mikulich John $38,269.59 $2,356.50 146.50 2.82
Tarin James $38,259.05 $4,141.72 268.00 5.15
Hagen Sara $38,258.96 $3,449.01 219.00 4.21
Lindsay Chinita $38,231.14 $4,679.91 305.75 5.88
Merritt Larissa $38,148.17 $4,113.88 268.38 5.16
Burke Stephanie $38,146.22 $5,584.11 364.62 7.01
Sanchez Arturo $38,121.75 $3,029.46 188.00 3.62
Galliher Kenneth $37,806.53 $3,385.86 221.38 4.26
Hernandez John $37,709.59 $3,055.63 198.00 3.81
Harter Clarence $37,684.77 $3,405.97 211.75 4.07
McKinney Trevor $37,603.36 $3,693.73 241.63 4.65
Stahl Carl $37,589.08 $3,742.14 244.25 4.70
McSwain Lester $37,580.94 $4,097.60 260.25 5.00
Smith Donita $37,536.91 $2,370.13 147.88 2.84
Bodine Bradley $37,515.31 $2,982.99 194.75 3.75
Escobedo Kathleen $37,499.51 $4,228.85 262.62 5.05
Eich Adam $37,484.94 $2,417.16 157.75 3.03
Janda Jim $37,451.34 $3,628.76 236.62 4.55
Thomas Kelli $37,372.62 $3,511.85 223.09 4.29
Askew Antoine $37,372.06 $3,843.84 251.00 4.83
Machnikowski Leonard $37,338.38 $3,822.67 249.63 4.80
Zelnis Christopher $37,321.93 $3,603.90 235.25 4.52
Gentry Penny $37,173.52 $3,103.32 195.13 3.75
Lake Bradley $37,102.62 $4,002.45 255.12 4.91
Bohling Kevin $37,084.97 $2,514.29 160.75 3.09
McNeil Megan $37,079.33 $3,487.04 227.50 4.38
Teague Meldon $37,049.72 $5,423.12 354.50 6.82
Schuch Zachary $36,968.49 $3,984.51 260.50 5.01
Rebar Dale $36,932.13 $2,511.47 164.00 3.15
Holliday Robert $36,925.43 $2,983.15 194.88 3.75
Archer Theresa $36,887.18 $2,273.36 146.38 2.81
Wozniak Bogusz $36,815.20 $3,479.29 227.62 4.38
Scaife Delano $36,801.76 $2,634.77 168.25 3.24
Ramirez Christopher $36,794.22 $4,328.61 282.50 5.43
Arce Gavina $36,785.11 $3,468.86 226.37 4.35
Cooper Zackary $36,766.24 $3,155.68 206.13 3.96
Harris Nakia $36,702.84 $2,400.55 157.13 3.02
Nunnery Carol $36,678.41 $1,956.86 123.75 2.38
Bergeron Ronald $36,571.25 $2,921.90 185.13 3.56
McGuire Mitchel $36,516.79 $2,660.76 156.50 3.01
Kolodziej Brian $36,502.02 $1,216.61 76.87 1.48
Swart Adam $36,411.68 $3,071.18 200.50 3.86
Machnikowski Marc $36,357.92 $3,606.03 235.38 4.53
Nyiri Adam $36,191.70 $2,593.66 169.87 3.27
Schorle Paul $36,169.97 $6,653.94 434.12 8.35
Howard Joseph $36,119.32 $2,384.94 155.75 3.00
Morris Michael $36,032.80 $2,109.48 132.00 2.54
Jett Charles $36,026.12 $1,899.82 124.00 2.38
Cabrera Eddie $35,977.19 $1,861.64 121.63 2.34
Rush Brandon $35,972.84 $2,381.09 155.50 2.99
Meyer Gregory $35,878.29 $1,944.04 127.00 2.44
Krueger Arthur $35,862.69 $3,070.54 200.62 3.86
Kimmel Donovan $35,781.92 $1,979.81 124.50 2.39
Hill Donald $35,708.35 $1,725.89 111.25 2.14
Norcutt Zachary $35,703.50 $2,322.16 151.75 2.92
McGraw Michael $35,703.22 $981.65 62.25 1.20
Cooper Erica $35,681.21 $936.80 59.37 1.14
Johnson Latasha $35,675.39 $1,625.29 103.25 1.99
Karas George $35,664.88 $1,713.74 111.75 2.15
Wigsmoen Brooke $35,593.98 $2,277.71 148.87 2.86
Merriweather Renita $35,573.57 $2,161.54 137.00 2.63
Eich Aleaha $35,431.92 $3,065.19 199.88 3.84
Rose Mark $35,395.53 $2,079.82 136.00 2.62
Rush Brandi $35,369.75 $3,755.54 245.12 4.71
Baroevich Steven $35,361.98 $2,093.54 136.75 2.63
Conley Tyler $35,356.99 $1,851.79 120.75 2.32
Rosa Paul $35,331.92 $3,492.79 227.87 4.38
Palango Christopher $35,238.13 $1,571.87 102.50 1.97
Bostick Jeffrey $34,725.17 $2,683.84 175.12 3.37
Crane Shawn $34,610.69 $1,840.49 120.25 2.31
Ostrowski Matthew $34,492.37 $788.88 51.50 0.99
Ahrens Jeremy $34,254.48 $2,449.97 159.87 3.07
Ramirez Omar $34,236.50 $6,228.13 406.13 7.81
Ford Anthony $34,160.80 $218.53 14.25 0.27
Love Penelope $34,067.74 $4,515.20 252.87 4.86
Jansky LeAnne $33,512.77 $30.66 2.00 0.04
Omamuli Gretchen $31,142.52 $3,262.10 205.50 3.95
Jung Alex $30,906.78 $2,812.14 183.37 3.53
Lopez Alyssa $30,795.60 $2,700.98 176.13 3.39
Hall James $30,510.06 $2,530.35 165.00 3.17
Hofer Skyler $30,127.93 $1,721.66 112.50 2.16
Mlodecki Michael $29,545.74 $1,520.15 99.13 1.91
Eaton William $27,914.75 $2,293.45 149.62 2.88
Darwish Jacqueline $26,311.83 $2,334.83 152.25 2.93
Santos Domonique $24,805.39 $1,686.91 110.00 2.12
Hatton Janice $24,783.27 $1,860.73 118.25 2.27
Misner Breanne $24,241.60 $3,318.23 216.38 4.16
Reyes Angelina $23,332.98 0.00
Mars Timesha $22,982.50 $1,838.27 120.13 2.31
Murphy Kevin $22,761.71 $2,120.13 138.25 2.66
Guajardo Daniel $22,546.98 $2,043.45 133.25 2.56
Darwish Yusef $22,514.94 $2,459.43 160.37 3.08
Sebens Shawn $22,209.64 $2,074.13 135.25 2.60
Bunyon James $22,188.54 $1,523.97 99.38 1.91
Stokes Bianca $19,873.82 $1,869.40 122.25 2.35
Cordova Anthony $19,116.77 $1,610.22 105.00 2.02
Mathewson Benjamin $16,281.50 $853.03 55.62 1.07
Knight Daniel $16,190.46 $2,005.12 130.75 2.51
Sullivan Joel $15,845.41 $1,844.10 120.25 2.31
Burns David $15,281.07 $1,479.87 96.50 1.86
Abernathy Ashley $15,201.32 $1,315.02 85.75 1.65
Peterson Bryce $14,783.43 $782.12 51.00 0.98
Terry Erica $14,202.97 $1,008.86 66.12 1.27
Hubbell Charles $13,816.15 $1,265.17 82.50 1.59
Kempke Joshua $12,784.86 $716.95 46.75 0.90
Metz Connie $11,875.67 $1,476.67 94.25 1.81
Stephens Davey $11,621.82 $250.14 15.25 0.29
Victor David $11,569.63 $6,679.75 441.88 8.50
Carter Byron $11,244.52 $1,151.07 76.50 1.47
Sedwick Steven $9,984.54 $1,063.63 69.75 1.34
Allen Jasmine $9,739.14 $2,271.21 148.75 2.86
Purvis Jimmy $7,560.61 $1,408.70 91.37 1.76
Pearson Curtis $4,932.06 $551.52 36.75 0.71
Trusky Carl $4,774.26 $42.17 2.75 0.05
Young Kylisa $2,838.71 $34.51 2.25 0.04
Jones Ronald $2,453.68
Emerick Michelle $2,453.68

Editorial Page Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/marc.chase.9 or Twitter @nwi_MarcChase. The opinions are the writer's.

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Marc is a veteran investigative reporter and editor of more than 15 years, including 10 years at The Times, where he is the investigative editor. He is also the founder of the Calumet Region Civil War Preservation Project.