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City exterminator called in sick, but seeks pay for other city job later in day

Robert Licata had a full-time job for the city of Buffalo. He also has a part-time job working for the city as an independent contractor.

On 21 days over the past summer, records show, Licata was logged out sick from his full-time day job as the city's chief exterminator, but he still worked his part-time job posting foreclosure notices for the city on vacant properties. When he did this, he always waited until after his regular work-day shift would have ended as an exterminator before starting his part-time work, Licata said.

Licata also occasionally worked double shifts at his full-time job - 16 hours in one day -  and on some of those dates also worked his part-time job, records show.  He never did his part-time job while being paid to do his full-time one, Licata said.

The city comptroller's office isn't buying it.

"It just doesn't pass the smell test," said Patrick J. Curry, a top aide to Comptroller Mark J. F. Schroeder.

In fact, the city comptroller's office is so suspicious it is holding up $24,000 in payments to Licata for part-time foreclosure notice work he says he did  in 2015 and 2016. The work is billed on a piecemeal basis at $12 per notice.

"We don't want to pay him," Curry said.

No one is questioning whether Licata posted the foreclosure notices. It's believed he did.

But the comptroller's office is questioning whether Licata abused his sick time, and whether he was doing his part-time job when getting paid to do his full-time one.

An employee too sick, day after day, to come to their full-time job should not be getting paid by the city for part-time work done on those same days, Curry said.

On days Licata called in sick to his exterminator job, he posted as many as 87 foreclosure notices  in one day,  Curry said.

"It's amazing a sickness can clear up every day after 3:30 p.m.," Curry said. "To say you are better, but then to be sick the next day."

In addition, the idea of working consecutive double shifts at his day job, as Licata sometimes did, but still having time to work his part-time job - posting as many as five dozen notices in one day  -  doesn't seem realistic, Curry said.

Licata worked 16-hour shifts at his exterminator job three days in a row in mid-July, and also reported posting between 43 and 66 foreclosure notices on each of those days, according to city records.

"We find it hard to believe he was doing this all in his off hours," Curry said, adding: "When does he sleep? When does he shower? When does he eat? Go to the store?"

Licata, 57, is crying foul.

"This is bull. It is ridiculous," Licata said when reached by phone. "They owe me lots of money."

"I didn't do it on city time," Licata said, referring to performing his part-time job while being paid as head exterminator.

"I would never do that. I wasn't double-dipping," he said

Licata said he worked full-time for the city for 31 years, before retiring as head exterminator at the end of August. He earned about $46,000 in base pay in recent  years,  but with overtime was able to make as much as $78,000 annually at the job, city records show. For the past few years, Licata said, he's also done the  piece-meal work for the city assessor's office, posting foreclosure notices on properties for two months out of the year. He does the foreclosure posting as a private contractor, not as a city employee.

As a single man, with no children, Licata said, he has plenty of extra time, and always posted the notices after working his exterminator job, sometimes doing the part-time duties late at night.  A couple times, he said, he's been out until 1 a.m. posting the notices.

The notices posted on any given day are in one zip code, and they are posted on houses or poles - not given to individuals - so it's not a time-consuming process and can be done at any time, he said.

"I have a lot of energy," Licata said.  "I can do 30 in an hour. Sometimes there are two or three notices on one house."

Licata said he worked hard at  his exterminator job,  putting in weekend, holiday and overtime hours,  never abusing sick time, and not even using all his vacation  time over  the  years.

In June of this year,  he said, he was feeling  burned out and stressed out from the job. "The job was getting stressful dealing with rodents everyday," he said.

He filed  his retirement papers with the city, and told his boss he would be using his accrued vacation and sick time until his Aug. 30 retirement date. Licata said his boss - whom he declined to identify - did not object. "My boss was well aware," he said. "They said: 'Go ahead.'"

At the time, Licata had slightly over the maximum 400  hours  in accumulated vacation days he would be able to cash out upon retirement, and well over the maximum 180 days  in accumulated sick time that could be used to calculate a sick-time retirement cash out, he  said.

Licata submitted to the city his bills for serving in-rem foreclosure notices on 21 days between July 5 to Aug. 19 when he was recorded as out sick from his exterminator job,  according to the comptroller's office. One other day was listed as a vacation day.

On days he was out sick, Licata said, he never started his part-time job until after 3:30 p.m., when his regular work day as an exterminator would have ended, he said.

Nothing in his blue-collar union contract prohibits him from working a part-time night job on a day when he's out sick from his full-time city day job, Licata said.

Sean Carney, president of AFSCME Local 264, said the city's blue-collar contract does not require employees to inform the city of part-time employment, and the question of whether a blue-collar employee can work a second job after calling in sick at a city job has never come up. He's not aware of any contract language addressing the issue, he said.

"If I get up and didn't feel well, and used sick time, then felt better and have a second job, I don't see anywhere in the contract that says you cannot do that," Licata said. "I didn't do anything wrong. I never abused sick time in my life. In 31 years, I've never been written up for anything."

At $12 per posting, Licata can -- and has -- earned $1,000 in a single day by delivering 85 in rem foreclosure notices, records show.

Licata earned $16,416 by working the foreclosure notice job for two months in 2014, and was on track to earn a similar amount in 2015. But the comptroller's office flagged the payments and held up $9,144 of the bills Licatta submitted in 2015 because of an auditor's concerns. Another $7,140 had been paid in 2015. The comptroller's office is also refusing to approve $14,784 of the $16,980 in payments Licata submitted for 2016.

Generally,  the 2015 payments being held  up involve days Licata was working  overtime and  posting foreclosure notices while the 2016 payments involve Licata posting  notices when he was out sick from his exterminator job.

Carney, the Local 264 president, said the blue-collar contract limits the amount of accumulated sick-time that can be cashed out upon retirement to one-third of the unused sick-time accumulated up to 180 days.

Licata said that he still had 1,800 hours  in accumulated sick time remaining  - which is roughly 225 days -  when he retired at the end of  August.  That amount would exceed the 180-day limit to be used in his retirement cash-out calculation. He also lost a couple days of unused vacation time, Licata said.

The comptroller's office referred the Licata payment requests to the city Law Department as well as the Common Council for review.

email: sschulman@buffnews.com

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