Details in Augusta recreation director's firing revealed

Beck

When recreation operations manager Melinda Pearson got four paid days off only three weeks after returning from 10 weeks of donated paid leave, it raised concerns among employees who’d given Pearson their sick leave, documents obtained by The Augusta Chronicle show.

The paid time off, documented as four days worked by Recreation Director Tom Beck, was the only reason cited by commissioners when they voted 8-1 to fire Beck on Monday.

According to a summary of the investigation obtained Wednesday by The Chronicle, Pearson had requested and received so-called “catastrophic leave” from her city colleagues to take off work from Sept. 19 to Dec. 2.

The paid leave, donated by other employees into a sick leave bank, is granted to employees who request it and have exhausted accrued vacation and sick leave.

Back on the job only three weeks, however, Pearson took another four days off starting Dec. 29, claiming she’d obtained verbal approval for the days off as compensatory time from her then-supervisor, former Assistant Recreation Director Dennis Stroud.

Beck returned from a holiday Jan. 3 and fired Stroud for incompetence unrelated to Pearson, he told commissioners Monday.

The next day, he signed off on Pearson’s time card, which said not that she was taking compensatory or other time off, but that she had worked the four days.

Classifying comp time as days worked by salaried employees exempt from overtime requirements was a practice that has gone on for years, Beck said, while making a plea to keep his job.

It’s a practice afforded exempt employees who have put in long hours handling city events, the longtime city director said.

With Stroud no longer around to approve Pearson’s time card, Beck signed it, knowing she hadn’t worked the four days and that she had been off for 10 weeks only three weeks before, the report said.

Beck told Deputy City Admin­istrator Bill Shanahan that Pearson was eligible for comp time, despite her presumably exhausting all time off when she made the request for catastrophic leave, according to the report, which Shanahan prepared.

The report also said Pearson had previously attempted to obtain several days of comp time “and had been stopped” by Stroud.

Pearson remained on the job Wednesday, but Shanahan said his investigation into her involvement in the incident is ongoing.

An employee since 1977, Beck had his lawyer present Monday and is expected to appeal his termination in superior court.

Beck had the confidence of City Administrator Fred Russell at least as recently as July, when Russell awarded him a $15,000 raise, boosting his salary to $100,000, although commissioners threatened to fire Russell when they learned of Beck's and 43 other raises Russell gave out during a hiring and raise freeze.

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