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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)

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Clean Water
11
Points
Clean Water 04/24/12 - 06:48 am
0
0

Is there a culture of

Is there a culture of corruption in Richmond County? When people do things wrong for some long they tend to think they are right in doing so. The Bus System, T Center, Golf Course, Garbage Reduction, Hyde Park, Land Give Aways,bribery and so much hatred the problems are to numberous. Who is responsible?

madgerman
236
Points
madgerman 04/24/12 - 07:06 am
0
0

This is a strange one because

Unpublished

This is a strange one because of the comp time procedures. If a person works and receives comp time, how do you record the actual comp time taken except to show it as work time. The real problem is how do they calculate comp time? Is it 1.5 hours for each hour accululated? This is the reason the DOL is investigating policys like this. I would bet Mr. Beck gets our little city for a whopping amount before this is settled.

joebowles
104
Points
joebowles 04/24/12 - 07:15 am
0
0

Privy, Under the FLSA (Fair

Privy, Under the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) Exempt employees are the only employees eligible to receive COMP time (If earned and deocumented). Non-Exempt employees are required to be compensated for all our worked in a weekly period. This was done to prevent emploers from not paying OVERTIME to hourly workers.

Little Lamb
40311
Points
Little Lamb 04/24/12 - 07:35 am
0
0

Well, yes, Commissioner

Well, yes, Commissioner Bowles. But with a title of "Operations Manager," surely Ms. Pearson was an exempt employee and, thus, eligible for comp time.

Little Lamb
40311
Points
Little Lamb 04/24/12 - 07:36 am
0
0

Clean Water asked: The Bus

Clean Water asked:

The Bus System, TEE Center, Golf Course, Garbage Reduction, Hyde Park, Land Give Aways, bribery and so much hatred the problems are too numerous. Who is responsible?

The City Administrator, one Fred (What, me worry?) Russell.

Little Lamb
40311
Points
Little Lamb 04/24/12 - 07:39 am
0
0

itsanotherday1 wrote: Those

itsanotherday1 wrote:

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).

It sounds like you work for a progressive company who uses a progressive discipline policy. City government does not work that way.

scratchthesurface
26
Points
scratchthesurface 04/24/12 - 07:39 am
0
0

The chickens have come home

Unpublished

The chickens have come home to roost! Ryan B told us about the mis-doings of Tom Beck....

stillamazed
1488
Points
stillamazed 04/24/12 - 07:46 am
0
0

I am an hourly employee and I

I am an hourly employee and I work a federal job, I can take comp time or overtime, it is up to me. Ms. Pearson was a salaried employee and according to the article she is entitled to comp time under federal law. I think there is something fishy here and I am not convinced that this man deserved to lose his job. I watched the interview with him last night and he looked like he was going to burst into tears. 35 years on the job deserves more than this. I would bet that there a lot a lot of employees that work for the city that is getting away with a lot more!!!!!

pointstoponder
153
Points
pointstoponder 04/24/12 - 08:11 am
0
0

Riverman, RE: your 6:15,

Riverman, RE: your 6:15, length of service is irrelevant. Tom Beck and Melinda Pearson are managers and responsible for making sure policy is followed. If anything, they should be held to a higher standard.

palmetto1008
9782
Points
palmetto1008 04/24/12 - 08:22 am
0
0

There's got to be more to

Unpublished

There's got to be more to this story.

obkad
201
Points
obkad 04/24/12 - 08:34 am
1
0

Having know Mr. Beck for many

Having know Mr. Beck for many years I can assure you he was following orders from those above him and in no way intended to "cheat" anyone. The kings of the commission, excluding Grady Smith and the newer ones, have been after Mr. Beck for years following King Marion charge up the hill to fire Mr. Beck, and this was an ongoing mission with commission. They want their own in there, not someone who runs the department professionally like a business. Did he have issues, sure what city department doesn't. I can only guess who will replace Mr. Beck, and if you think you have a mess now,, just wait....but then when "brothers back brothers" you wont have any complaints... Gee I guess the procurement department should look into their practices, but then again, they won't fire the head of that department now will they.....Mr. Beck has an legal issue to sue here and if he doesn't he's a better man the I..... When there's no paper trail it's hard to prove....Mr. Russell had no choice as he is trying to cover his own by allowing a good man go down the tubes to save his own job.. Mr. Russell is next..........

stillamazed
1488
Points
stillamazed 04/24/12 - 08:39 am
0
0

I am curious how often the

I am curious how often the same thing has been done in other departments. If I was Mr. Becks attorney, I think I would be calling for an investigation into all departments. According to Mr. Beck, it has always been done that way. I get comp time occasionally but when I take the comp time my time card reads comp time off just like when I earn it it states comp time earned. I am curious how Ms. Pearson's time card read. I am also curious how many times before this has been done in all departments. RC commission to be fair to all you need to do the investigation, more folks may need to get fired......

Discussionstarter
429
Points
Discussionstarter 04/24/12 - 08:52 am
0
0

Sorry.... this story 'smells'

Sorry.... this story 'smells' of a hidden agenda by the commissioners. Are you saying no one monitored this policy for 8 years... and then we fire a long-standing employee? Where is the head of HR; did they not spot- check time keeping records the last eight years? HR, internal auditing, and Russell need to be fired instead.

southern2
4263
Points
southern2 04/24/12 - 08:56 am
0
0

I'm sure after 34 years of

I'm sure after 34 years of working for this County, Mr. Beck has seen it all. I hope that as he is taken down he will take down a few others with him. I'm disappointed to see someone who has given a lifetime of service waylaid, freight trained, and short changed but then this may turn out to be the best thing to ever happen to him.

David Parker
7919
Points
David Parker 04/24/12 - 09:12 am
0
0

Was the commission meeting

Was the commission meeting closed/open to public? The common thread throughout is "There's more to this story".

If that be the case, then alot of that story should be circulating due to witnesses at the meeting. Any reason why someone that was there hasn't weighed in with some revealing info?

double_standard
166
Points
double_standard 04/24/12 - 09:23 am
0
0

This is not Mr. Beck's first

This is not Mr. Beck's first time having issues with this employee http://chronicle.Augusta.com/stories/2006/08/31/met_94721.HTML its amazing how Mrs. Slyvia Cooper failed to reference a story she wrote on last week. Last time I checked GA was a right to work state so the Commission was right by firing Mr. Beck.

Little Lamb
40311
Points
Little Lamb 04/24/12 - 09:25 am
0
0

obkad wrote: Mr. Russell is

obkad wrote:

Mr. Russell is next..........

Oh, please. Oh, please. Oh, please.

Little Lamb
40311
Points
Little Lamb 04/24/12 - 09:36 am
0
0

From the article: Presented a

From the article:

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.

There was an error made. You can see the problem in the quoted paragraph. Pearson was told she could take 4 days off as comp time by her supervisor, Stroud. But the time card presented to Beck had 4 days actually worked, not comp time. Now, let's face it, Tom Beck did not put those hours on the time card. No, Pearson actually prepared the time card and submitted it up the chain. The error was made by Pearson and/or Stroud. Beck was rubber stamping a transaction he knew nothing about.

You can see the problem. Pearson earns 4 days comp time and asks her supervisor if she can take 4 days off with comp time pay. The supervisor says, "OK." So far, so good. But when Pearson fraudulently puts 4 days actually worked on her time card which were not actually worked, she still has 4 days comp time in the bank to take off later. She is attempting to double dip.

Someone needs to look into Pearson's actions and give her the axe.

Riverman1
70993
Points
Riverman1 04/24/12 - 10:01 am
1
0

After reading Joe Bowles

After reading Joe Bowles comments I'm more convinced than ever Beck should not have been fired. The employee was a manager who would have come under the exempt status as LL points out. LL also points out the 4 hours on the card were not added by Beck. At the most he signed something without knowing all the facts. Reprimand or something, but firing him? Doesn't make sense to me.

joebowles
104
Points
joebowles 04/24/12 - 10:30 am
0
0

River, Mr Beck signed as

River, Mr Beck signed as Hours worked, Not Comp time.
He stated that Salaried employees can't legally receive COMP time so he coded as hours worked(Error1). He stated he knew definitely that she didn't work the hours!(Error2). If Salaried employees receive Comp time there has to be record keeping in order to prevent accusations of unfair treatment.
Either way none of this was done and when it comes to timecards there is no 2 way street.

Little Lamb
40311
Points
Little Lamb 04/24/12 - 10:51 am
0
0

Thank you, Commissioner

Thank you, Commissioner Bowles. From the article we read:

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.

If Beck has been director of a large department for 15 years and has never learned that comp time is for salaried employees and overtime is for hourly employees; then shame on him. Fire him for stupidity on the job.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
P.S. And fire Fred Russell for keeping a stupid department head on the payroll for over ten years!

wondersnevercease
9155
Points
wondersnevercease 04/24/12 - 11:06 am
0
0

And the banana was able to

Unpublished

And the banana was able to strut out of there with how much???

palmetto1008
9782
Points
palmetto1008 04/24/12 - 11:24 am
0
0

Correct me if I'm wrong Mr.

Unpublished

Correct me if I'm wrong Mr. Bowles, but she DID work the hours, but not in the week they were reported as having been worked.
This is standard operating procedure, at least in the arenas I have worked in, for salaried employees who are subject to the silly hourly timesheets that don't really apply to them.

Riverman1
70993
Points
Riverman1 04/24/12 - 11:35 am
0
0

Thanks, Joe, but as you can

Thanks, Joe, but as you can see from the comments this was a pretty grey area. The requirement for him to keep records for comp time could be a piece of scratch paper or possibly not even written down until it was required. Now you state he put it down simply as her having worked those hours which may have been wrong, but, in essence, he was simply giving her comp time. Again, you fire a man with that much time for THIS? No counselling, reprimand, suspension or demotion? You just fire him? I'd be like Grady Smith and realize good employees are hard to come by.

my.voice
4205
Points
my.voice 04/24/12 - 11:42 am
1
0

In the immortal words of Jack

In the immortal words of Jack Nicholson (Joker):

THIS TOWN NEEDS AN ENEMA!

Iwannakno
1533
Points
Iwannakno 04/24/12 - 12:04 pm
0
0

Look for Department heads to

Unpublished

Look for Department heads to be dragged into court and when this all flushes out I bet dollars to doughnuts he gets a severance package to keep someone from being embarassed. The city has shown it would rather settle than fight because of what might be revealed.

pointstoponder
153
Points
pointstoponder 04/24/12 - 12:18 pm
0
0

It was not a gray area. Other

It was not a gray area. Other people in the department had refused to sign off because they knew it was contrary to policy. If you check previous posts, it was stated that the employee had exhausted leave., there were NO banked hours.

palmetto1008
9782
Points
palmetto1008 04/24/12 - 01:01 pm
0
0

New to Augusta, owensjef3??

Unpublished

New to Augusta, owensjef3??

PghSteelersFan
140
Points
PghSteelersFan 04/24/12 - 01:03 pm
2
0

I used to think the 'old'

I used to think the 'old' City of Augusta had a few wing nuts on the City Council. Now it looks like the Combined Government Commission has even more.
'Salaried' employees are paid for 40 hours per week regardless. There is no need to check 'comp time' boxes on a time card. Some Governments and companies don't even require a salaried employee to even 'clock in'. Salaried employees are usually in 'management' positions and are expected/trusted to work the time.
From what was written in the article, one could say that 'politics' is at the root of all this. Someone stepped on 'special' toes and now its payback time. The time card excuse is just a 'cover'. Now the question arises as to what is the 'real' reason and who got their 'special' toes stepped on?

john.q.publius
0
Points
john.q.publius 04/24/12 - 01:20 pm
0
0

Every action taken by a

Every action taken by a political body--like the Commission--is political, so we can lay that to rest.
Now, the question is, did Mr. Beck do anything actionable? Well, yes, but I think his firing shows more the deficiencies of our local government/civil service than it does any problems with his actions, which were minimal.
Exempt employees ought not be turning in time cards. I'm exempt, and I work 50+ hours/week, up to 75 on a busy week. No overtime, too bad for me.
Not every salaried employee is exempt; many salaried employees can still receive overtime/comp time if they work more than 40 hours/week. If the time card had a "comp time" box on it to check, then Mr. Beck should have checked that box. Otherwise, it is not unreasonable to say that he has falsified a document. However, if it is true that this is the common practice in Augusta civil service (I am dismayed to say that I would not be at all surprised to learn that such is the case), then A) it should be easy enough to demonstrate, and B) if the Commission wanted to put an end to it, then Mr. Beck should have been reprimanded by someone in the business office the first time he did this, not fired after decades of doing so.
Of course, if he's lying, then he was fired for cause.

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