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St. Louis suburb seeks to recoup sham overtime

BRENTWOOD (AP) — A St. Louis suburb has reached a deal to recoup some of the hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to firefighters for overtime they didn’t work.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Saturday that Brentwood officials also have forced the fire department’s three highest-ranking officers to retire and two other firefighters to take demotions over the payments.

At issue is money paid to firefighters who came in on their days off to perform routine maintenance on firetrucks and ambulances. They were paid for a full 10-hour shift even though they worked only part of the shift.

Police learned of the improper overtime payments while investigating City Administrator Chris Seemayer, who pleaded guilty last month to embezzling about $30,000 from the city and gambling it away at a casino.

Officials say the unjustified overtime cost the city from $12,000 to $28,000 a year over more than two decades.

Brentwood’s longtime fire chief, Bob Niemeyer, 70, who said he was forced to accept retirement, had been authorizing the maintenance overtime since 1987. He described it as “incentive pay.”

“I think it was a great program and I did nothing wrong whatsoever,” he said.

One of the firefighters, Bob Carver, said he and his co-workers assumed the maintenance program was a known and accepted program of the city.

“At no time did any of us think this was inappropriate,” he said.

But Kurt Becker, an official with Firefighters Local 2665, which represents Brentwood firefighters, said the problem was that firefighters were compensated for work they didn’t perform.

“Once it came to my attention, there was no doubt in my mind that we needed to work with the city to make it right,” Becker said.

Few details have been released about the settlement that was negotiated in May. Becker declined to discuss the details, and Mayor Pat Kelly said only that a plan was put in place in which the city would recoup some funds.

Niemeyer said firefighters told him afterward that under the agreement they would not be getting pay raises “for at least the next two years.”

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