State auditor questions sheriff’s payroll practices

The Greene County sheriff’s office does not document hours worked by management staff, including a major who holds a part-time job outside the department, and gave bonuses to administrators without written documentation, a state auditor’s investigation has found.

The criticisms were raised in a letter to the county from Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost following a recent audit of the office. The letter was obtained by the Dayton Daily News using Ohio’s public records laws.

“Failure to (change these practices) allows for abuse and could result in confusion over leave balances and wages for employees,” the letter concludes.

Sheriff Gene Fischer said he considers his 10 administrators – chief deputy, majors, captains and administrative assistants – to be salaried workers and he’s confident they work at least 40 hours a week.

“These people we’re talking about actually work more hours than required,” Fischer said. “Law enforcement is a 24-hour a day function and these are the upper echelon of the agency and they respond 24 hours a day.”

Charles Barrett, a former sheriff’s deputy who is challenging Fischer for re-election in November, was critical of his opponent after the report.

“As an employee of the sheriff’s office it makes the sheriff’s office look bad, but as a taxpayer I’m livid,” Barrett said.

Fischer told the Daily News that his payroll practices are common in county government and were in place before he took office. He said the report contained only minor recommendations.

Fischer said if he made his salaried workers track hours, he would have to pay them overtime and it could end up costing the county more.

“We’re confident that if the department works with their legal counsel they will be able to implement the recommendations in a cost-effective way,” said State Auditor’s Office Spokesman Michael Maurer.

County personnel policy set by commissioners requires employees, regardless of their pay grade, to record hours worked. Department directors don’t get overtime, but they can accrue time off to be used at a later date. The sheriff’s department, which is not under the commissioners’ purview, does not follow that policy.

Neither Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer nor Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly require their adminstrative staff to fill out time sheets. Both said they require their staffs to log their vacation and sick time. Kelly said all employees have swipe cards that essentially document when they enter and exit sheriff’s office facilities.

Major holds a second job

In addition to overseeing the county jail, SWAT team and special operations, Maj. Kirk Keller teaches classes a couple days a week at the Greene County Career Center police academy.

Payroll records from the career center show that Keller is paid $23 an hour to teach. A timesheet for the week of Sept. 24 shows that Keller taught Monday from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and Tuesday from 10 a.m. to noon.

Keller took no time off from the county that week. He is paid $37.26 an hour from the county.

The state auditor’s office said the lack of any timesheet at the sheriff’s office makes it impossible “to verify that the employee properly made up the remaining hours.”

Keller told the Daily News he estimates he works 90 to 100 hours in a two-week period, often on nights and weekends.

“Getting the time in is not difficult,” he said. “There are times I come in before I go to teach; there are days when I come in after.”

In weeks when he can’t make up the hours, Keller said he docks his vacation time for hours he doesn’t work.

“I’m not going to take anything that doesn’t belong to me,” he said.

Payroll records show he took 21 hours of leave last year to cover hours worked at the career center. He claims he flexed his time for the remaining 82 hours he taught.

“He’s getting his hours in,” Fischer said.

Barrett, who resigned from the sheriff’s office as a sergeant in March, doesn’t believe Keller made up the hours.

“I had to account for every hour I worked,” Barrett said. “The same applies for every deputy and every corrections officer. What you’re getting into is double standards.”

Sheriff’s office policy prohibits “all agency personnel” from taking vacation time to work a second job. Fischer and Keller said this rule doesn’t apply to administrative staff because it was created to keep the county from having to pay overtime for deputies to cover the shifts of other deputies working second jobs. This is not the case with management, they said.

Fischer said it’s a credit to the agency that one of his majors helps teach future recruits.

“It gets people from this agency in front of a new crop of employees. It gives us a chance to impress them,” he said.

In an email, Plummer said he doesn’t permit his Montgomery County employees to work part-time jobs during normal business hours. Although no one in his command staff currently has a part-time job, Clark County’s Kelly allows it, but requests must be approved.

Top brass got bonuses

Fischer said the bonuses his administrative staff received — annual payouts from up to $4,475 in 2009 to $500 last year, according to county payroll records — were to compensate them for pay cuts in 2009.

That year the county, facing a budget crunch, laid off 10 corrections officers. Fischer said the police union turned down concessions while his administrative staff agreed to pay cuts of up to 20 percent. Since then, he said, pay for staff under union contract has climbed 17.38 percent to an average of $21.87 per hour while pay for his administrative assistants have gone up 11.59 percent to an average of $24.50.

Fischer said he gave the bonuses at the end of each year using extra money he was able to save elsewhere in the budget. Bonuses went to all managers, not just administrative assistants.

“These people are the ones that stepped forward in 2009 and they said we’ll take a cut,” he said. “When I get a chance to give back when I can, I get called on the carpet for it.”

The auditor’s office noted Fischer did not document the reason for the bonuses.

Under their contract, sheriff’s deputies also get an annual bonus set at $25 for each year they work for the county.

Sheriff’s deputy union officials did not return calls for comment on this story.

‘Grasping at straws’

Barrett said it was common practice for certain management officials to get paid for hours they didn’t work. The auditor’s office could not verify all of his claims, but the state did note that there were a handful of occasions where an employee took leave without getting approval or requested sick leave and was paid vacation leave.

“This has gone on since he became sheriff. We’re talking not a single record for his administrative staff for nine years,” Barrett said. “The only people who can hold these people accountable for this kind of nonsense is the public.”

Fischer said Barrett is “grasping at straws.”

“The auditor’s office didn’t find anything wrong in their report,” Fischer said. “They made recommendations on how things can improve. We’ll look into it.

“If these people are not here, I’m going to know they’re not here. If their work is not getting done, I’m going to know it’s not getting done. These are at-will employees.”

Fischer produced a legal opinion from Assistant Greene County Prosecutor Stephanie Hayden that said there is no legal requirement for the sheriff to track hours worked by his management staff.

“If you do not have concerns about the number of hours these employees work, there seems little practical purpose in requiring them to fill out a timesheet,” Hayden wrote in her June opinion.

Staff writer Andrew J. Tobias contributed to this story

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