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Augusta Commission fires longtime recreation director Tom Beck

Beck defends himself to commissioners after investigation

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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.

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Commissioners Wayne Guilfoyle and Bill Lockett discuss a request from Paine College to close Druid Park Avenue between the intersections of Laney-Walker and Central.  EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Commissioners Wayne Guilfoyle and Bill Lockett discuss a request from Paine College to close Druid Park Avenue between the intersections of Laney-Walker and Central.

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.

IN OTHER ACTION MONDAY

• A committee established a sub­committee to include Commissioners Bill Lockett and Alvin Mason, Deputy Administrator Tameka Allen, general counsel Andrew MacKenzie and Procurement Director Geri Sams to determine the scope and maximum budget of a forensic audit of the downtown Trade, Event and Exhibit Center and TEE parking deck construction project.

• The city’s Engineering committee arranged a 2 p.m. Wednesday meeting with Paine College officials to discuss closing Druid Park Avenue or otherwise slowing traffic on the road where it crosses the college campus.

• The Administrative Services committee declined to approve a contract outsourcing the city’s human resources functions to Automatic Data Processing until City Administrator Fred Russell returns with “a path forward regarding internal operations of HR” if the contract is later approved.

Comments (60) Add comment
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double_standard
166
Points
double_standard 04/23/12 - 01:38 pm
8
0
Will Ms. Pearson be fired as

Will Ms. Pearson be fired as well.

Insider Information
4009
Points
Insider Information 04/23/12 - 01:49 pm
1
0
It has been "...standard

It has been "...standard procedure in the city for many years."

Sweet son
10429
Points
Sweet son 04/23/12 - 01:56 pm
5
0
A severance pay out is one

A severance pay out is one thing but impacting retirement pay is another. No matter how he is leaving the retirement package is his!

ripjones257
0
Points
ripjones257 04/23/12 - 02:02 pm
0
0
Sad...
Unpublished

Sad...

marley
0
Points
marley 04/23/12 - 02:04 pm
7
0
Good question

Good question double_standard, if Mrs. Pearson took the paycheck then she's just as quilty as he is......

Iwannakno
1533
Points
Iwannakno 04/23/12 - 02:04 pm
0
0
So is a lawsuit...he will
Unpublished

So is a lawsuit...he will file they will settle..another long standing policy in the county...

bdouglas
5049
Points
bdouglas 04/23/12 - 02:22 pm
1
0
Wonder what the full story is

Wonder what the full story is here... Just speaking from personal experience, at past jobs I've worked extra hours in a week before, but since I wasn't allowed overtime, I used it as comp time of sorts in the following week. So a time card may say I worked 40 hours, but really only worked 35 or something during that actual work week because I worked 5 extra the week before. Technically that would be paying someone for hours they didn't work I guess. That would make sense as being 'standard procedure' I suppose.

David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 04/23/12 - 02:51 pm
0
0
This is a tuff one for me.

This is a tuff one for me. Forgive the use of law terminology, it's just how i ended up verbalizing a response.

On the one hand, a "felony" at work, directly related to work, and directly involving money that is not mine and using it to award unjustly....

Retract the benefits and give them only what they contributed. No severance.

On the other hand, if the "crime" was a "misdemeanor" and was not aggravated or knowingly fraudulent, then forced resignation w/ benefits.

I just don't want a case where the guy was doing business as usual and got complacent with the protocol. Maybe he applied wages to time not worked b/c he remembered some hours that were left off. Or maybe it was an issue where he felt a job/task would require X number of hours, but the girl finished early.

Either the guy is guilty or he made a mistake, but his heart's in the right place. Whichever one is accurate, determines the correct and proper reaction by the city.

blues550
376
Points
blues550 04/23/12 - 03:38 pm
0
0
The wheels of the bus go
Unpublished

The wheels of the bus go round and round, round and thump, thump, thump. There goes another one under the bus.

noxiousfumes
449
Points
noxiousfumes 04/23/12 - 03:47 pm
2
0
Spineless commissioners have

Spineless commissioners have wanted to fire him for years. This is just an excuse so that they would not have to pay him severance like they did Chiquita Johnson. Just like they're waiting for the right situation to fire Fred Russell; though I can think of $millions of reasons for that!

Little Lamb
46096
Points
Little Lamb 04/23/12 - 04:43 pm
4
0
Interesting that Russell gave

Interesting that Russell gave Beck one of those big raises as soon as Russell got the discretionary authority last year. Now he recommends firing him. Obviously Beck was not a chronic problem employee.

Okay, Beck costs the city a couple of thousand dollars in comp time for an employee.

Russell, on the other hand, is directly responsible for tens of millions of dollars (if not hundreds of millions) in errors, omissions, malfeasance, lost work hours, etc. of his staff — and Russell's own dereliction of duty has cost us millions more.

Fire Russell with cause tomorrow for dereliction of duty, and no severance package.

faithson
5162
Points
faithson 04/23/12 - 04:56 pm
3
0
Tom is as honest as they

Tom is as honest as they come. His dismissal by the minority's on the commission is telling. It may have been his time to go, but his many years of service should be recognized. Having dealt with Tom over the years, I can say he deserved a better ending.

nowhine
5373
Points
nowhine 04/23/12 - 04:57 pm
5
0
Any one want to make a wager

Any one want to make a wager that the new Director will not be black?

TrueVoice
22
Points
TrueVoice 04/23/12 - 04:57 pm
0
0
I believe an explanation is

I believe an explanation is in order from Grady Smith.

Little Lamb
46096
Points
Little Lamb 04/23/12 - 05:32 pm
7
0
Grady Smith voted against the

Grady Smith voted against the lynch mob. I salute him.

SON of Scoob
434
Points
SON of Scoob 04/23/12 - 06:16 pm
1
0
Tom Beck is a good man and

Tom Beck is a good man and has dedicated most of his working life to the recreation department. Tom did deserve a better and more dignified departure and should definitely receive his full pension.

SON of Scoob
434
Points
SON of Scoob 04/23/12 - 06:18 pm
1
0
Little Lamb I also salute

Little Lamb I also salute Grady Smith. He has been the voice of reason in many cases involving the termination eager clowns on the commission.

justthefacts
22083
Points
justthefacts 04/23/12 - 06:32 pm
1
0
Had the pleasure to know and

Had the pleasure to know and work with Tom in the past. Sorry to hear this.

dstewartsr
20389
Points
dstewartsr 04/23/12 - 06:55 pm
1
0
Fired without severance?

Fired without severance? Wonder where all the records of counseling that lead to this are. Maybe the city decided they need none. Must be a white male.

Iwannakno
1533
Points
Iwannakno 04/23/12 - 07:17 pm
0
0
You can't retract someone's
Unpublished

You can't retract someone's benefits if they are locked in after so many years of service.. If that was the case not one congressman or senator benefits would be safe and they didn't even earn theirs lol

wildman
1123
Points
wildman 04/23/12 - 08:37 pm
2
0
Are you kidding me? This is

Are you kidding me? This is very simple, his lawyer will be in touch.

showboat
336
Points
showboat 04/23/12 - 08:43 pm
0
0
Beck was a good man tryedto
Unpublished

Beck was a good man tryedto help you any way he could!! Fire Russell nowhe gave away thousands of dollars!!!!!

itsanotherday1
43370
Points
itsanotherday1 04/23/12 - 10:13 pm
1
0
I agree wildman. Absent any

I agree wildman. Absent any other information than was published here, I suspect Mr. Beck will get his due... I hope he does and the ignorant on the commission get a slapdown.

nevertoolate
291
Points
nevertoolate 04/23/12 - 10:15 pm
0
0
"Operations

"Operations Manager"...hmmmm...the title implies a salaried position...meaning the Manager is paid a guaranteed salary regardless of actual hours on the job. She could work 72 hours one week and 15 the next week and still get the same pay. Perhaps it's time to refer to the FLSA...

Little Lamb
46096
Points
Little Lamb 04/23/12 - 10:29 pm
1
0
To dstewart: You ask a good

To dstewart: You ask a good question about previous discipline. In large companies who are worried about following federal fair employment guidelines, they are careful about keeping records of problem employees and putting discipline records in files. Beck was obviously not a problem employee, but he has been disciplined before (some have been reported in the Chronicle. He could be tough with some and lenient with some — that's a discretion that department heads have.

But, nevertheless, there were discipline records in his file, so the commission has cover. Did the commission exercise the absolute best course here? Maybe not.

Little Lamb
46096
Points
Little Lamb 04/23/12 - 10:33 pm
2
0
Let us not forget that

Let us not forget that Russell has discipline from the commission in the past. Russell is the one who needs to be fired with cause and without a severance package.

But, with this tactical move, Russell has bought one or two black votes on any motion to fire him, thus strengthening his position.

itsanotherday1
43370
Points
itsanotherday1 04/23/12 - 10:44 pm
0
0
LL, you say "some" have been

LL, you say "some" have been reported in the AC. How many disciplinary issues has he had, and what were they in terms of severity? As I said above, he has a case based on the limited info published, but if he has MULTIPLE disciplinary issues, he should have been fired already. Those who reported to me got a verbal for minor issues, a formal contact note in the file for more serious issues, then a performance improvement plan that got them out the door. (unless I thought they were truly salvageable).

what he said
21
Points
what he said 04/23/12 - 10:52 pm
3
0
Department Heads work at the

Department Heads work at the will of the Commission and the standards for disciplinary action are not as tight as they are for other employees. Asfor this being a racially motivated firing, that is kind of hard to claim when there are 4 black Commissionersand the vote was 8 to 1.

As for Ms Pearson, people I know in the Recreation Department have indicated that she is indeed a salaried employee and thus inelligible to accrue comp time. While it is common practice to allow salaried employees some leeway on hours because of working weekend events or other unusual events, it is not common to give several days at a time.

Ignore for a moment that Ms. Pearson was inellibible for comp time, according to coworkers, she was out several months last year and did not return until late November or early December. Subsequent her return, she did not work more than one full week for the remainder of the year.

Why is this significant? During her lengthy absence, M.s Pearson applied for, and was granted Catastrophic leave. I am told this program is for employees that have to miss work and run out of available leave. They they can request donations from other employees to help them through difficult times. To qualify, ALL other forms of leave, including comp, must be exhausted. Assuming this is true, then Ms. Pearson had no accumulated comp time. Therefor she and Mr Beck either incorrectly requested donations from other employees or Beck gave her time off she hadn't earned.

Privy
104
Points
Privy 04/24/12 - 12:57 am
0
0
Lets see this was a employee

Lets see this was a employee that was a salaried (exempt) employee. These employees do not get comp time. Nor do they get payed for extra time they put in. I know because I was one of these employees (in another department). This would have never flown. Yes, if I needed an hour or two to go to the doctor, I could take the time. But any hours that I worked over was also shown on my timecard(s) and 95% I received no type of compensation for. This was just part of the job.
I have to say that whoever is the new director of Recreation (black or white) it will be like a prayer answered for the working force. This was the worse run department there was. The employees were belittled etc. for speaking their minds or pointing out wrongs.

And yes the public does not have the whole story. I will end here, no time for a book, but I will say" look for more terminations in the near future."

Riverman1
84272
Points
Riverman1 04/24/12 - 06:12 am
4
0
Someone who has been there

Someone who has been there that long should have been reprimanded, suspended or demoted. There appears to be no middle ground with the Commission. That's unrealistic.

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