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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.

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owensjef3
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owensjef3 04/24/12 - 01:36 pm
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Why does it matter to some
Unpublished

Why does it matter to some the race of Beck's replacement? I find that disturbing.

HotDiva01
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HotDiva01 04/24/12 - 01:48 pm
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From what I hear. This should

From what I hear. This should be just a start. There are many dirty members of management in Augusta city Departments. I hope it is a start and the rest of these members of management will be let go. Im glad to see that our commission is finally looking out for the tax payers and hope they keep it up. I hope we will see some more Directors and their managers below them in other city departments let go. From what I hear from many city employees is that this kind of stuff goes on all the time and no one cares to hear about it or look into it and stop it. Congrats to the commission and Fred Russell. Hopefully they will not stop with just Mr. Beck. Even thugh you have along way to go commission keep it up and clean up Augusta city Departments.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 04/24/12 - 02:22 pm
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HotDiva01 wrote: From what I

HotDiva01 wrote:

From what I hear from many city employees is that this kind of stuff goes on all the time and no one cares to hear about it or look into it and stop it. Congrats to the commission and Fred Russell.

Excuse me, but Fred Russell is Exhibit A of those who do not care to hear about work performance issues and/or attendance at work of his employees. He is the root of the problem — and does not deserve congratulations.

lsmith
105
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lsmith 04/24/12 - 02:30 pm
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The stench from this
Unpublished

The stench from this commission action is simply overpowering. A 35 year employee who obviously did a heck of lot of things right for a very long time gets sacked by a bunch of "johnny come lately" part time political hacks for a time card violation for which he personally didn't benefit? Obsurd! There are many avenues for action this bunch of clowns could have taken, firing shouldn't even have been on the table.
Some friend of relative of a commissioner will end up with the job. Mark it down.

For the record I agree with previous posters, the city employee that needs to go is the spineless, disloyal, arrogant Russell.............

c6murphy
0
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c6murphy 04/24/12 - 02:33 pm
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Maybe someone should sell the

Maybe someone should sell the air rights to this

Little Lamb
45870
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Little Lamb 04/24/12 - 02:39 pm
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Austin Rhodes talked about

Austin Rhodes talked about this on his radio program yesterday. You can see above that Beck has a lawyer. You can bet they are getting ready to appeal this decision. They might first do the perfunctory step of appealing to the personnel board. Or they might just bypass that step and go straight to superior court. In any case, when it gets to court and Beck has the power to subpeona city workers, supervisors, department heads, commissioners, etc. — including former employees — the city will fold like a house of cards and give him his severance, if not give him his job back under a settlement agreement. If Beck was following established practice and has some witnesses who agree with him that it was established practice, then Beck is in the driver's seat.

dichotomy
32849
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dichotomy 04/24/12 - 02:42 pm
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This sounds like a set up to

This sounds like a set up to me. I suspect we will be hearing from Beck and his lawyer soon and the settlement will be considerable.

Little Lamb
45870
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Little Lamb 04/24/12 - 02:48 pm
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From the article: The action

From the article:

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 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.

Yes, it does not make sense for Russell to grant an 18 percent raise, then turn around and recommend firing for sloppy management on Beck's part. Sure, Beck needs a reprimand and the city needs to get a clear policy on comp time established and communicated to all employees and supervisors. But firing is wrong.

Once again, Ms. Pearson is more in the wrong than Beck, for turning in a false time card.

Willow Bailey
20580
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Willow Bailey 04/24/12 - 03:58 pm
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No, River, it's very

No, River, it's very realistic, just completely dysfunctional thinking and behavior from what we have read. The problem is what appears to "be" with this city government is never the whole and complete picture. What have they left out? And as someone else has already stated, what disciplinary action has been taken against Pierson?

Little Lamb
45870
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Little Lamb 04/24/12 - 04:22 pm
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Hi, Willow. I've missed you.

Hi, Willow. I've missed you.

Privy
104
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Privy 04/25/12 - 12:17 am
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Commissioner Bowles, I agree

Commissioner Bowles, I agree with you, I never received comp time or pay for any hours that I worked beyond an eight hour day. Although I did have it recorded on my time card that I worked. Also there were records kept why I worked beyond the 8 hour day.

In the past (two/three years ago) this policy was went over with ever Department Head through front line supervisors and scretaries two/three years ago in commission chambers. We also had to sign an attendance sheet showing that we took the scheduled class.

Riverman1
83725
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Riverman1 04/25/12 - 02:05 am
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Willow, true. Augusta

Willow, true. Augusta politics and government are not the ripples on the surface. The stone that caused the ripples is out of sight on the bottom of the river.

Little Lamb
45870
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Little Lamb 04/25/12 - 08:08 am
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And underneath that stone are

And underneath that stone are the crushed, drowning taxpayers.

Willow Bailey
20580
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Willow Bailey 04/25/12 - 10:19 pm
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Hi, LL. Thank you. I've

Hi, LL. Thank you. I've missed you , too:)

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