Friday, January 4, 2013

Sun Valley audit exhibits show inflated salary expenses

More light shed on Sun Valley City Hall


By BRENNAN REGO
Express Staff Writer

Documents related to a recently conducted forensic audit of the city of Sun Valley indicate that the city paid for at least $51,100 worth of unexplained employee time off and paid a salary to one employee that was nearly 19 percent higher than that permitted under city policy.


A 46-page list of exhibits that support a previously released summary report of the audit’s findings was released to the Idaho Mountain Express in late December by Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas. Thomas has stated that he will not file charges against current or former city employees, citing insufficient evidence due to sloppy record keeping and permission by city officials for employees to engage in questionable activities.


In an interview, Mayor Dewayne Briscoe called the exhibits “the meat and potatoes of the audit.”
The list of exhibits includes graphs and spreadsheets that reveal, among other irregular use of city funds and policy violations that include just over $88,000 in vacation policy violations; $2,250 in “double-dipping” policy violations—when employees were paid for working their regular city jobs and for responding to calls as city EMTs during the same hours; a case of just over $15,000 in maximum-salary-policy violations; and a correlation between unexplained, compensated absences from the city by a department head and overtime hours incurred by the same department.
The exhibits illustrate vacation policy violations by Building Official Eric Adams (just over $17,000 worth of unexplained absences), Police Chief Cameron Daggett (just over $21,000), then- City Administrator Sharon Hammer (just over $25,000), Community Development Director Mark Hofman (just over $13,100) and Street Superintendent William Whitesell (just over $11,700). The document containing the exhibits states that those numbers quantify pay that each of those employees received for hours not worked during normal business hours without those employees claiming vacation.


The document also states former Mayor Jon Thorson approved “compensation time off” for Whitesell, and former Mayor Wayne Willich approved a “flex time” schedule for Hammer that would allow absences during business hours to be approved as compensated time off, but neither was approved by the City Council, as is required by city policy. The document does not mention special approval for the other employees.


The auditors used city cell phone data to track those employees’ whereabouts during normal work hours. The hours the auditors consider as “not worked” are hours when an employee’s cell phone data show that the employee was not within city limits. The document states that those employees should have either stayed at the office or claimed vacation, but doing neither simultaneously was in violation of city policy, regardless of whether those employees were technically working for the city during the hours they were absent.


Daggett, Hofman and Whitesell declined to comment on the alleged unexplained absences. Responses from Adams and Hammer were not available by press deadline Thursday.
Another discovery made by the auditors’ cell phone data review is a correlation between overtime hours incurred by the Police Department and unexplained absences from city limits by Daggett during the years 2010 and 2011. The document does not draw any conclusions based on this information. Daggett declined to comment on whether he was conducting city business while absent and, if he was working, why it was necessary for the department to incur overtime during those times.


Still other city policy violations revealed by the exhibits include a violation of the city’s maximum-salary policy for Adams’ salary. The document states that, according to the policy, the maximum salary for a building official should have been $81,336. The document states that in fiscal 2009, Adams earned $81,109, but that went up to $82,974 the next year. The next year, it continued to rise, reaching $89,633 due in part to a $5,000 bonus. For fiscal 2012, it reached $96,427, due in part to another $5,000 bonus.


“Former Mayor [Wayne] Willich could not explain why there were two $5,000 pay adjustments within such a short period of time, although he admits that he signed both forms,” the document states.


Adams’ fiscal 2012 salary was nearly 19 percent over the allowable maximum for his position.
The audit was conducted by Newport Beach, Calif.,-based accounting firm Hagen, Streiff, Newton & Oshiro and cost the city just under $285,000. Briscoe has said it will save the city about $60,000 a year in the long term due to policy changes made and other corrective actions taken based on its findings.


In response to the release of the exhibits, Briscoe expressed relief and said Sun Valley’s citizens will now recognize why it took so long—from April through August—to conduct and why it cost so much.


“The citizens should be aware of what I and the council have done so the city will not have this kind of mismanagement and corruption again in the future,” he said.


 

View the exhibits

To view the exhibits to the forensic audit and other documents related to investigations into fiscal and personnel practices at Sun Valley City Hall, go to the home page of the newspaper's website at www.mtexpress.com and scroll down to "Our Extras."


Brennan Rego: brego@mtexpress.com




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