Philly City Council demands more transparency on errors in city payroll system

By: - May 26, 2021 1:35 pm

By Michael D’Onofrio

PHILADELPHIA —  City legislators are demanding more accountability and transparency from the Kenney administration around errors related to the city’s two-year-old OnePhilly payroll system.

At-large Councilmember Isaiah Thomas says the Kenney administration has ignored his requests for updates about a deduction error with the payroll system that has affected him and scores of other city employees.

The issue resurfaced last week during a City Council committee hearing, where Thomas and other legislators grilled Kenney administration officials about its lack of consistent policies around addressing current and future issues related to the OnePhilly system.

Several members of the council’s Appropriations Committee said they would vote against a proposed $26.5 million transfer ordinance put forward by the Kenney administration, which includes a reallocation of $1 million for the OnePhilly system, unless the administration addressed the issues raised around the errors that affected Thomas and other city employees.

The proposal moved out of council’s Committee on Appropriations on Friday, and could be up for a final vote next week. The proposal, a typically routine affair, would not increase funding for the OnePhilly system.

“I don’t think we should keep pouring money into something that we know has the kinks that it has without a plan,” Thomas said in an interview on Monday.

Philadelphia’s city payroll system’s errors can leave some with hefty bills

During the hearing last week, City Budget Director Marisa Waxman said responses to Thomas’ questions about the OnePhilly system were “in the works” and started delivering some written responses to him already.

Waxman told legislators that the volume of errors with the OnePhilly system has gone down and the Kenney administration has worked to address the issues that occur.

When errors with the payroll system occur, the city informs the affected employees and their unions, and consults with them on ways to resolve issues, such as repaying missed deductions, said Catherine Lamb, the city’s deputy finance director.

“In the course of running a large, complex payroll system, sometimes things happen,” Lamb said. “And our goal is always to communicate, when (an error) does happen, communicate it quickly to the people impacted and resolve it quickly as well.”

In March it was revealed an error with the OnePhilly system had failed to deduct pension contributions from the paychecks of 160 city employees, including Thomas and members of his staff, throughout 2020. The city is now seeking to recover more than $279,000 in missed employee contributions.

The error left some of those employees with hefty bills, which they could choose to repay overtime or repay in a one lump sum. Thomas is required to repay $17,452 in missed payments due to the error.

Thomas expressed his frustration with the Kenney administration’s repsonse to the error, saying the city has started deducting his paycheck to makeup for the missed payments without his permission.

“I still don’t know what went wrong,” Thomas said during the hearing on Friday. “People are asking for transparency and communication. It’s still not happening.”

OnePhilly is the city’s system for human resources, benefits, payroll, time, attendance and pension. The system launched in phases starting in early 2019 and has cost $47 million so far.

2020 report from City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart found that breakdowns in the OnePhilly system led to errors in employees’ timekeeping and payroll, resulting in overpayments, underpayments and inaccuracies in hours, including for overtime.

During the hearing other legislators expressed their concerns with the city’s OnePhilly payroll system that affected Thomas and other city employees.

Councilman Kenyatta Johnson called on the Kenney administration to be more forthcoming about issues related to the payroll system, saying he had “grave concerns about PhillyOne.”

“When I’m actually in barbershops getting my haircut and I run into sanitation workers, they’re giving me a hard time about the very same thing,” Johnson said.

Councilmen Allan Domb, David Oh, and Brian O’Neill, also said they would vote against the proposed transfer ordinance unless the issues with the payroll system were addressed.

“It’s got to get resolved,” Domb said.

Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, chairwoman of the Committee on Appropriations, said transparency around the OnePhilly system’s errors was “hugely important.”

Quiñones-Sánchez said that when errors occur transitioning away from the city’s legacy systems, “the burden should not be on the person that is the victim of that error.”

Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared

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