Sylvia CooperCity Ink columnist and correspondent for The Augusta Chronicle.

Let toe surgery, time card woes be cautionary tales

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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.

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FriedFacts 04/29/12 - 06:52 am
What's disappointing is those

What's disappointing is those men on the Commission who know better, yet went along with this travesty and even tried to justify their votes. Grady Smith may be missing a toe, but he made the honorable decision. Maybe there are some other missing parts on this Commission.

FriedFacts 04/29/12 - 08:07 am
Flannery O’Connor….Love this

Flannery O’Connor….Love this line. “anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic."

She wrote stories scarier than horror movies and much more realistic. Amazing that she lived most of her life and died in Milledgeville. Interesting that Jack Long knew her. I’ll be looking for next week’s column.

Conservative Man
Conservative Man 04/29/12 - 11:27 am
Dichotomy you are right. I

Dichotomy you are right. I heard through the grapevine a week before the firing that a vote had been taken in a legal meeting and it was 9-0 in favor of firing. But it was kept out of the media until Mr. Beck could speak in open commission. So yeah, the firing had aleady been decided. It seems Mr. beck was only able to change Grady's vote.
If Mr. Beck is as good a man and an employee as everyone says, it's a shame that Fred et al, had to wait until now to finally start upholding policy.It sounds as if Tom did break the rules but because Commissioners and Fred have been so careless in the past no one thought it would be a big deal.
If they had been doing their due diligence this would not have happened. At least we have a chance come July or Nov to vote some of the "thicker" ones out and put some people in who may actually pay attention to such things...

allhans 04/29/12 - 11:48 am
Since this was an old policy,

Since this was an old policy, Beck should have at least been reprimanded. Was he given a warning and then went forward anyhow?

csraguy 04/29/12 - 11:58 am
There may be more to the

There may be more to the story. I don't know Beck but if what has been reported thus far is all there is to it, then this firing will cost our city dearly in a law suit. And, if the other comments regarding his even paying for his own golf when he plays at the city course are true then he should be employee of the year, not fired.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 04/30/12 - 08:35 am
Sylvia Cooper has made the

Sylvia Cooper has made the transition from reporter to pundit, so it is not up to her to solicit answers to questions.

But isn't there some other reporter for the Chronicle to try to get the story from Melinda Pearson? At least report a "no comment" when he/she tries to interview Pearson. She shares some of the blame, here.

AjavaCafe 04/30/12 - 09:57 am
Okay let me see if I have

Okay let me see if I have this correct. Back when the employees of the Augusta Utilities Department were caught, on camera, clocking each other in and out, the commission did not vote to fire those employees. It was Judge Michael Annis who had to force that issue and uphold the firings. But Tom Beck does something that everyone has been doing for years, admits to it, does not lie about it and gets fired???? Are you serious!!! After all his years of service, he did not even deserve the option of retirement? Something about this stinks!!

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 05/01/12 - 11:59 am
Let us remember that Fred

Let us remember that Fred Russell has been approving this practice for as long as he's been here. He knows the game. He just changed the rules in the middle of the game.

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