Although Tom Beck said he was only following a long-standing policy of recording certain employees’ compensatory time as time worked, the Augusta Commission voted 8-1 to fire the recreation, parks and facilities director at a called Monday meeting.
A city employee since 1977, Beck defended himself before the commission Monday against allegations he had done wrong when he approved a time card stating that Melinda Pearson, the recreation operations manager, worked four days when she was actually off.
An investigation into the matter revealed “this employee had taken four days off comp time, and when we looked at the time card, it showed she’d been working four days. It didn’t show comp time,” said Deputy Administrator Bill Shanahan, whose findings prompted City Administrator Fred Russell to place Beck on leave without pay a week ago.
Compensatory, or “comp,” time is allowed under federal labor laws when salaried employees work more than their usual work week, and Beck said recreation employees are especially prone to put in extra hours when the city holds large sporting events.
Pearson, a city employee since 1983 and the daughter of longtime elections Director Linda Beazley, oversaw maintenance at the city’s 63 parks and facilities.
“It’s the nature of what we do, putting in mass hours to get the job done,” Beck said.
Presented a time card Jan. 4 denoting her four days’ comp time as time worked, Beck approved it as usual, he said. Pearson said the days off had been orally approved by her supervisor at the time, then-recreation deputy director Dennis Stroud, Beck said.
Beck, who never named any of the employees in question, fired Stroud a day earlier on Jan. 3 “for reasons totally outside of this time card issue,” and never contacted him about the comp time request.
Citing an unwritten policy he was told to use eight years ago, Beck said, it was routine to classify comp time as regular hours for employees exempt from overtime, while retaining documentation if something came up.
“Are we the only department that does this? I will guarantee you we are not,” he said, with lawyer Mike Brown by his side. “This was the process that we knew how to do. This is what we did for years.”
Commissioners had no questions for Beck other than J.R. Hatney, who asked why the recreation director didn’t use the “comp time” box on the time card. Beck said the box was for hourly employees, not salaried ones.
Asked for his recommendation, Russell said it was to terminate Beck, and Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle made a motion to fire Beck for cause, meaning he will receive no automatic severance pay. Commissioner Bill Lockett seconded the motion.
The action is a shift in support for Beck, who last year saw his department nearly double in size with dissolution of the city’s public services department. Shortly after, Russell gave him a $15,000 raise, boosting his salary to $100,000.
The time-card incident wasn’t the first time Beck has been in trouble with the commission. In 2000, a job posting for recreation specialist III that left off the requirement of a four-year degree got Beck suspended for five days without pay. In 2007, he was put on leave without pay for 10 days after then-Augusta Municipal Golf Course pro Guy Reid was charged with theft of a bank deposit.
The lone vote against firing Beck came from Grady Smith, who said he wanted more information before terminating an employee with such longevity.
“Somebody had their ducks in a row, then slam-bam, here’s the guillotine,” Smith said.
Other commissioners declined to comment on the action besides Jerry Brigham, who did not attend Monday’s meeting because of sickness.
“There’s nothing stranger than Augusta politics,” Brigham said later.
Beck began his career as director of Warren Road Community Center. He served as assistant recreation director for 17 years before his promotion to director, a title he’s held for at least 15 years. In his late 50s, Beck was a couple of years from receiving full retirement, but the termination won’t affect the retirement he is due, Russell said.
Shanahan, who doubles as interim human resources director, will serve as interim recreation director while the city conducts a search to replace him, Russell said.