Ex-library official demands city clear his name in overtime scandal

Bates Hall: The reading room at the Boston Public Library. Wikimedia Commons Brian Johnson

Jim Meade, the former superintendent of buildings for the Boston Public Library, is accusing the city of wrongful termination, saying he was forced to resign last fall after he helped the library uncover abuse of overtime by custodians.

Meade was one of three senior facilities managers dropped from the library payroll after a custodian told investigators that library janitors routinely billed the city for late-night overtime they did not work.

Meade’s lawyer tells WGBH News his client had no knowledge of the scam and no responsibility for custodial timesheets. He is now demanding that the city establish a process for Meade to publicly clear his name and restore his reputation.

Library spokeswoman Lisa Pollack said, “Because we value the privacy of our employees, the Library does not publicly discuss personnel matters.”

Last summer, former library custodian Calogero Russo told WGBH News that when custodians were offered overtime shifts to clean up after weddings or other outside events hosted in library buildings, they filled in time sheets reflecting a full 8-hour overtime shift, even if they only worked a few of those hours.

“We were getting paid from 12 midnight to 8 in the morning,” Russo said. “If we finished at 3 o’clock, we would leave and we would still get paid until 8 a.m.”

The library told Russo he was being fired in part because of he came to work while under the influence of drugs and in part because he falsified his time sheets. Russo, who admitted his struggles with addiction, said he was called into a disciplinary meeting in May with a city human relations lawyer and was questioned about leaving early. He said he “kind of let the cat out of the bag” that it was a standard practice for night shift custodians to leave early, and that senior managers knew about it.

The state’s Department of Unemployment Assistance approved Russo’s request for unemployment benefits, noting that other library employees also falsified their time cards.

Director of Operations Eamon Shelton sent a reminder to library employees May 18, 2018, saying “all staff are expected to be present for their entire shift including straight time, scheduled overtime and event overtime. … All staff must report their time accurately on their time sheets which must reflect the actual time worked.”

Payroll records obtained by WGBH News showed that along with Russo, Meade and two other facilities officials were removed from the payroll in late July.

But Meade’s attorney says Meade — a long-time library executive with numerous city management awards under his belt — was unfairly terminated, and he has begun discussions with the city to clear his name.

“Mr. Meade was part of the solution, not the problem,” attorney Joseph Cacace told WGBH News. “Nevertheless, the City forced Mr. Meade to resign by threatening to terminate him by the end of the day on October 1, 2018 if he did not resign. On top of everything, the City refused even to provide Mr. Meade with a name-clearing process.”

Cacace said, “The Boston Public Library did not explain why Mr. Meade was being singled out in this way. Mr. Meade had nothing to do with any alleged wrongdoing. Mr. Meade actually discovered and reported the custodians’ overtime abuses to superiors. Mr. Meade did not participate in it. He did not approve it. In fact, Mr. Meade had no supervisory responsibility for managing the custodians who were allegedly abusing their overtime privileges.”

Cacace said Meade’s professional reputation has been severely damaged in the process.

In the wake of the scandal, the library’s custodial unit cut its overtime costs by nearly 20 percent last year, leading to an overall drop in overtime costs at the library of more than $60,000, according to city payroll data.

But Pollack said the reduced overtime was the result a relatively mild winter and a schedule of smaller events, not a response to falsified timesheets.

The library consistently ranks among the ten city agencies that spend the most on overtime each year. Last year, the library was the only one in the group to see a drop in total overtime costs, according to Boston payroll records.

A radio version of this story aired on WGBH News on April 23, 2109.