ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Invitation to Abuse

Westminster officials should be embarrassed by this week's release of an audit showing that Fire Department personnel racked up nearly $4 million in overtime in only the last five years.

A six-month review by independent accountants produced a detailed report that found Fire Department managers were "ineffective" in preventing excessive overtime by firefighters and supervisors.

The Orange County district attorney's office has been investigating whether firefighters broke the law in getting overtime pay for shifts not worked. The firefighters' union insisted that no laws were broken. But even if that is true, officials should have been quicker to institute new procedures to cut overtime pay at a time when the city was facing cash shortages.

When city officials finally did cut the Fire Department's budget last year, the firefighters union launched a recall campaign to remove four council members. The June 7 recall is a bad idea; the time to remove elected officials one dislikes is at a regularly scheduled election.

Still, the council must institute the reforms suggested by the auditors, including drawing up written policies for such matters as administrative time off. Make sure everyone knows the rules and see that supervisors enforce them. That is the only way to do business today.

Although there seems little doubt that most in the 64-member department are honest workers performing a tough job, the informal practices of the past were an invitation to abuse.

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