News From Terre Haute, Indiana


May 30, 2014

Paychecks for city workers delayed

Employees line up to receive paper checks after city error in file halts direct deposits

Hundreds of Terre Haute city employees did not receive their paychecks Friday after what city officials are characterizing as a computer glitch.

City Hall will be open today until noon so that employees who did not get paid Friday can receive paychecks from the City Controller’s office. This means some employees will not get their money deposited into their accounts until Monday.

The problem was first noticed early Friday when employees found their direct deposit funds were not sent to their accounts as usual on payday.

Around 10:30 a.m., Leslie Ellis, city controller, sent an email to employees stating the problem stemmed from a software problem with First Financial Bank, which handles payroll accounts for the city.

However, Norm Lowery, bank president and CEO, stated flatly Friday that the bank experienced no malfunctions with its equipment.

“It was not our technology that broke down, I can say that,” said Norm Lowery, president and CEO of First Financial.

Laws and bank policy do not permit him to discuss a customer’s account; however, in light of Ellis’s statement that the bank was at fault, Lowery said he would at least clarify that there were no problems on the bank’s side, he said.

“It had nothing to do with our technology breaking down,” he said.

Later Friday, about 5:30 p.m., city officials retracted their original statement, absolving the bank of any fault.

“After further investigation we have determined that a problem with today’s payroll occurred with the electronic file provided by the City of Terre Haute and resulted in delay of direct deposits into employee accounts,” stated an email from the City Controller’s office. “The problem did not occur at First Financial Bank, nor did it result from any technology used or owned by the Bank. In addition, no errors were apparent upon initial review on our end. We are continuing to look into the file structure to determine what may have happened.”

A “file” is information provided to the bank directing it how to disperse funds.

“To make [direct deposit payments] work normally, we have [a file] a couple of days in advance so you have time to do your work,” Lowery said in response to a question about how direct deposit works in general.

Ellis said the city’s file was sent to First Financial at 3:07 p.m. Thursday – just past the bank’s 3 p.m. deadline. However, the bank acknowledged receipt, she said.

The reason the file took longer than normal was there were three payrolls being paid Friday, she said. Bi-weekly, semi-monthly and pension payments were all processed on that one day, she said. That required the city to increase it’s “limit” at the bank, she said, something that must be done by a letter. Two letters were required Thursday, she said.

The city typically sends the files the day before payments are made, Ellis said.

“We think it’s a combination of things and that’s what we’re looking into. From our end, we can’t find anything wrong, Ellis said in a late Friday evening telephone interview.

Brad Speidel, information technology director for the city, told the Tribune-Star a check of the city’s logs indicated no malfunctions with the city’s server or communication’s equipment.

By mid-day Friday, employees with accounts at First Financial and Woodforest National Bank had their funds via direct deposit. Other employees, a couple of hundred in total, required paper checks.

Contrary to initial worries, the problem had nothing to do with the city’s ability to pay, Ellis and Mayor Duke Bennett stated later in the day as city workers were filling City Hall hoping to pick up paper checks as an alternative to direct deposit.

“Absolutely not,” Bennett said when asked whether the problem was caused by lack of city funds to make payroll. Ellis, speaking later Friday night, agreed: “There is money there and [employees] are going to get paid.”

“I’ll bring it to you if I need to,” Bennett said standing in the hall outside the mayor’s office and talking to three police officers who had arrived for their checks only to be told they were not yet ready. The check writing process is time consuming under these unusual circumstances, Ellis said.

“If there are computer issues, what can you do?” said one firefighter who was waiting outside the controller’s office. “I’m sure they’ll make everything right.”

Most employees seemed patient, while a few showed signs of frustration. At least one employee said her bank is not open on Saturdays to accept her paper check deposit.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or

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