Friday, October 29, 2004

Unethical Ethics Commission

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Auditors Say Ethics Panel Misled Them Letter Alleges Irregularities, Improprieties, `Pattern Of Disregard'

October 28, 2004 By JON LENDER, Hartford Courant Staff Writer

The State Ethics Commission has misled state auditors for years by withholding employee time sheets and other records, in a "pattern of disregard" for regulations that included unauthorized holidays and compensatory time, the auditors said Wednesday in a letter to Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

State Auditors Kevin P. Johnston and Robert G. Jaekle also cited irregularities and improprieties in the agency's use of its budgeted funds, saying it illegally paid in advance, with last year's funds, for six employees' intended attendance at a California conference six weeks from now.

Rell called the auditors' three-page letter "disconcerting, to say the least." She added, "This continues the parade of missteps and embarrassments in an office that is charged with promoting and protecting ... integrity of state government."

She vowed to take "administrative action this week to address what the auditors rightly termed a pattern of disregard" for state policies.

Wednesday's developments added to the turmoil that has afflicted the agency since late summer, when its longtime executive director, Alan S. Plofsky, was fired by the appointed commission that oversees the paid staff.

One of the commission's justifications for Plofsky's firing was its claim he improperly built up comp time - based on a personnel administrators' investigation of whistleblower complaints filed against him by subordinates and an anonymous letter-writer.

But the auditors also raised questions Wednesday about the comp time of Plofsky's non-management subordinates.

"The timesheets and compensatory time records, pertaining to non-management personnel of the commission and given to our office to audit over the years, did not always reflect the actual time worked on any given day," Jaekle and Johnston wrote.

The auditors did say that, over the years, it was the responsibility of the executive director - Plofsky - and a lower-ranking fiscal administrative supervisor at the commission to sign off on letters attesting that the auditors were given all the agency's records and that they were accurate.

"Despite these sign-offs, it came to our attention during our review of the aforementioned whistleblower matters that all of the ... timesheets and compensatory time records ... had not been provided to our office during ... several audits," they wrote.

Plofsky's lawyer, Gregg Adler, said the auditors' findings are not focused on his client, who denies wrongdoing. "As far as he knew, the records for his comp time and others were accurate," he said.

Plofsky is appealing his Sept. 10 firing, saying it is payback from a commission that was dominated by appointees of John G. Rowland, the ex-governor whom he publicly called a liar and whose ethics violations he pursued while state ethics director.

Members of the commission have denied that claim. The panel's new chairman, Hugh Macgill, said Wednesday he had "just distributed this letter to the commission. We will take it up very swiftly."

He said it is "a matter of concern and dismay and simply underscores that ... I think this commission, and I think other commissions" are not keeping close enough tabs on their administrative staffs.

Rell said: "The auditors question the very ethics of the Ethics Commission itself. They allege purposeful withholding of time and attendance records and a willful violation of state policies on purchasing and payments."

"Once again it is clear that the commission needs serious reform," said Rell, who has designated ethics reform as her top priority.

"The bipartisan working group I formed with representatives from the legislative and executive branches has met and is beginning its work to reconfigure the [ethics] agency."

The auditors, in their letter, said the pattern of disregard for state rules included:

"Allowing the telecommuting of two commission employees" without proper state approval.

Allowing employees time off before holidays without proper authorization from the governor's office.

Lack of annual written evaluations of commission workers.

Not recording all employees' comp time or requiring written approval before it is earned.

Allowing work schedules inconsistent with union contracts.

Allowing state payment for "possible unwarranted overnight stays at hotels while commission staff members attended professional conferences."

The auditors told Rell on Wednesday that in investigating the whistleblower complaints against Plofsky - an investigation for which they have submitted a still-secret, separate report to state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal - they determined that there were additional time sheets and compensatory time records that they had not seen.

They asked for the other records, but did not receive them. The agency handed over the additional records "only when we specifically informed the commission that we were aware of the existence" of the additional records, the auditors wrote.

Jaekle, in a phone interview Wednesday, likened the additional records to a second set of books kept unofficially.

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