Let toe surgery, time card woes be cautionary tales

Augusta Commission member Grady Smith who had his big toe amputated at University Hospital on Friday said he could be the poster boy for diabetes.

“Just call me Missile Toe,” he said.

In a more serious vein, he said he really does want to serve as a warning to young and old to pay attention to their doctor if they get diabetes.

“It is serious. I’m walking proof. I know why they call it the silent killer.”

And he has learned his lesson, he said.

“I haven’t had a drink since December 3. J&B Scotch called me long distance and wanted to know if I was still alive. Their sales have gone way down.”

Commission member Jerry Brigham is recuperating at home and feeling stronger each day after a serious bout with blood clots in his legs.

 

“TODAY IT’S ABOUT YOU AND YOUR VOTE AND ME AND MY CAREER.” Thus Recreation’s Tom Beck began his defense before the Augusta Commission against allegations of time card fraud last week.

Beck’s career hung in the balance, or so some naive people thought, after being accused of signing a time card for an employee that showed four days of regular work hours that the employee, operations manager Melinda Pearson, did not work.

Beck readily acknowledged that was the case before asking, “Why in heavens name would I do such a foolish and fraudulent thing and risk my career, 15 years of which I’ve been your director, a career in which I’ve managed tens of millions of your dollars without incident? Never played a free round of golf on your municipal golf course in all the years we operated it. I’ve paid every time I played. Never even had a free Coca-Cola from one of your concessions stands. Never borrowed a piece of equipment for personal use. Never hired a family member for a summer job.”

Hey, those things alone ought to qualify him for a job for life.

Why indeed would he do such a foolish and fraudulent thing?

Because recording comp time for employees who are exempt for overtime pay has been standard process for that department since snow fell in Miami.

“I can tell you it’s been at least 35 years – my whole career – and working under two directors the first 19 years. Putting on events requires mass hours when you’re putting on baseball tournaments, softball tournaments, special events like Tour de Georgia, Ironman, those kind of events. It’s the nature of what we do – putting in mass hours to get the job done.”

 

SO WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED? The operations manager is in charge of all the park maintenance and facilities for 63 parks and responded to numerous after-hours calls in 2011.

Such things are happening constantly, and so she built up quite a bit of time over a four- or five-month period and never had a chance to take time off. In June 2011, she went out on medical leave and was out five months and did not return until the first of December. On Dec. 22, this employee asked for time off from her supervisor to use those days she never had a chance to use.

According to Pearson, her supervisor OK’d the time off. Pearson turned in the proper paperwork and took the time off.

“We get back to work on Jan. 3, my first order of business that particular day was to terminate the employment of this supervisor for reasons totally outside this time card issue,” Beck said. “I had no idea this time card issue was even an issue. Had no idea she’d even gone out on this kind of time.”

On Jan. 3, the supervisor is no longer employed with the city.

On Jan. 4, the payroll clerk brings Beck the time card and tells him four of the days were days she was granted off for comp time. So he asked Pearson about it, and she said the supervisor approved it.

“So after the fact, on this Wednesday, I was handed this time card, and I’ve got this issue,” he said. “I’ve got an employee telling me one thing, and I’ve got a supervisor who’s no longer employed. And I typically don’t make it a habit of calling ex-employees for information.”

So he signed the time card because he knew she had the time built up, he said.

“There’s no question about that. She had a massive amount of time she’d given to this city.”

“That has been the process for years and years and years. This is not something that came up this December. This is the process we use. … This is how we were told to record the time in these situations.”

 

IF YOU JUST WANT TO MAKE A CHANGE AT THE TOP: “But to terminate me – I’ve already been given a letter of termination from Mr. Russell before he had a chance to hear any of this. I’m asking you not to terminate me for this because this is not a fraudulent case. This is not a case where ol’ Tom stole anything from this government. This is a case of standard process we’ve been using for years and years. If the process is wrong, tell us. If there’s another process that would have done it better, I would gladly have done it.”

But their minds were already made up.

“Off with his head!”

 

STINKS TO HIGH HEAVEN: Deputy City Administrator Bill Shanahan is investigating Pearson’s involvement.

Well, before anyone gets too hasty, consider this: In 2008, Pearson was February Employee of the Month for going above and beyond the requirements of her job after an opossum went under the Old Government House and died. Recreation was called, and Pearson and her team came and cut a hole in the foundation so the possum could be retrieved.

Unfortunately for her, she was the only one small enough to go through the hole.

She was dragging the rotting carcass out when her belt buckle got caught on something. After a brief moment of panic at being trapped with a dead, stinking opossum, she freed herself.

Employee of the Month? She deserves to be Employee of the Century.

 

POP QUIZ: In March, an anonymous “whistleblower” sent e-mails to Augusta media outlets stating that Beck and Pearson were being investigated for time-card fraud.

He also claimed Pearson had created a hostile work environment.

Who do you think the whistleblower could be?

A. The fired supervisor

B. A commissioner, upset because the supervisor was fired

C. The butler

 

Why did commissioners vote to fire Beck?

A. They cut a deal.

B. The Devil made them do it.

C. Russell recommended it in hopes of saving his own job.

 

Answers: Yours are as good as mine.

 

COMING NEXT WEEK: A review of attorney Jack Long’s fundraiser for Clerk of Court Elaine Johnson at the Long’s Pickens Road home, as well as his 1958 pilgrimage to Lourdes with Flannery O’Connor and others. Also, who are Augusta Pride and Progress’s Policeman of the Year and Firefighter of the Year.

More

City Ink: Governments only get bigger and bigger

About two-and-a-half hours into a Friday commission work session on the 2017 proposed budget that was presented and praised for being balanced... Read more

City Ink: Augusta government keeps growing

Augusta City Administrator Janice Jackson presented her proposed 2017 budget just in time for Halloween and frightened the commission's Finance... Read more

Reader's letter means I've got apology to give ...

Well, as my first editor Archie McKay always said, “Don’t try to bury the mistakes you make in... Read more