Aug 13, 2021

Forensic audit of fire department leave time shows misuse

Posted Aug 13, 2021 4:49 AM

Salina Post

A forensic audit of Salina Fire Department leave time has found that some "Chiefs of Staff" (CoSs) took time off without applying it to vacation.

The audit report is scheduled to be presented to the Salina City Commission at Monday's meeting. The meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. Monday in room 107 of the City-County Building. As of now, the audit report is scheduled near the end of the meeting.

City officials were made aware of the potential leave time fraud in October 2019, when former Salina firefighter Tim LePage brought it to their attention, according to a Factfinder 12 report by Alex Flippin that aired on KWCH last week. LePage made Flippin aware of his concerns and provided documentation that appeared to back up those concerns.

LePage retired from the Salina Fire Department in July after 22 years of service. He was placed on leave until his retirement because of his reporting to city officials about the alleged time fraud, he said in the KWCH report.

According to the forensics audit report conducted on behalf of the city by Kansas City, Mo., firm BKD CPAs & Advisors, city management "performed a limited initial investigation and based on that investigation, the City and counsel were concerned that deliberate inaccuracies relating to the reporting of payroll may have affected compensation in various specific payroll cycles, and potentially caused overtime and inflated vacation available to be bought back, resulting in misuse of City and taxpayer money to the benefit of the individual employees."

BKD was hired to conduct a forensics accounting audit of fire department leave time from Jan. 1, 2014, to Dec. 31, 2020. According to BKD, the "scope of positions analyzed began with the entire Fire Department and was narrowed as the analysis progressed."

"An initial kickoff call was held on Oct. 27, 2020 where City Management walked through the data and how to utilize and interpret the data. Management also identified individuals of focus and discrepancies to be aware of," BKD noted.

BKD reported finding a pattern of some "Chiefs of Staff" (CoSs) collecting time worked beyond the normal work day or shift and taking the time off later. According to the report, this is "what is commonly referred to as 'compensation time.' Generally, this time is referred to in the Fire Department's historic data as 'admin time' or 'admin days,' and more recently referred to as 'executive leave.'"

According to the report, city policies and procedures do not permit compensation time, such as admin time or admin days.

The audit noted that "Chiefs of Staff" includes the fire chief, interim fire chief, battalion chiefs, fire marshal, EMS chief, and training chiefs. It is important to note, however that, per the audit, only some of this group took admin time/executive leave.

While use of admin days ranged from one to 13 per person per year, one CoS had 20 such days in 2019, the audit noted.

"A total of 265 shifts were identified during our scope period as time off not applied to vacation, which is valued at over $198,000. In addition, we identified 24 shifts where it appears to be additional personal time or sick time not reported, valued at over $18,000," the audit report noted.

According to the report, the use of admin time did not impact the amount of vacation time the CoSs accrued.

"Therefore, the CoSs had their full allowable vacation time and/or were able to sell up to 50% of unused vacation in addition to the admin days," the audit report stated.

The report continued, "Our analysis calculated that the impermissible use of admin time facilitated over $75,000 of vacation buybacks during our scope period that would not have been possible had vacation days been used to provide the admin time off."

Additionally, the report noted the "cascading effect" the use of admin time by CoSs had on lower-ranking member of the Salina Fire Department. For instance, if a CoS took admin time, a lower-ranking member of the department had to take on the CoS's duties. Other employees would then have to assume the duties of the person filling in for the CoS.

The BKD report specifically mentioned a "Use of Executive Leave" memo from May 1, 2007, that "appeared to authorize the use of executive leave by the CoS under the Executive Staff Manual section on 'Exempt Employees.'"

Following are observations made by BKD in the report.

●The fire department did not seek permission or receive authorization from the city for authorizing executive leave for the CoSs, nor was there an attempt to confirm authorization later with the city.

●The Executive Leave Memo did not comply with the Executive Staff Manual's section for exempt employees on key points, namely the requirement for city manager approval for consecutive executive leave beyond one day.

●Leave was not being used by CoSs as authorized by the Executive Leave Memo.

●While the Executive Leave Memo allegedly solidified the practice of executive leave, admin time had been taken by CoSs prior to the 2007 Executive Leave Memo.

●The Executive Leave Memo was not well circulated among CoSs until knowledge of the city's investigation into admin time came to light.

To read the report of the forensics audit of Salina Fire Department leave time plus accompanying documents, including a timeline (37 pages), click here.