Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sun Valley spends $215K on sidelined staff

Money spent during fiscal 2012 for paid leave and severance

Express Staff Writer

Sun Valley Mayor Dewayne Briscoe works at City Hall last week. Photo by David N. Seelig

     Sun Valley residents might be interested to know that their city has paid about $214,800in fiscal 2012 for work that the city and its taxpayers are not getting.

     That sum includes money bestowed to city employees for paid administrative leave and contract termination settlements.

     City personnel placed on paid administrative leave and/or laid off in fiscal 2012 include former City Administrator Sharon Hammer, Fire Chief Jeff Carnes, Building Official Assistant Cristina Carnes (Jeff Carnes’ wife) and Assistant Police Chief Mike Crawford.

     Mayor Dewayne Briscoe said the purpose of placing certain employees on paid leave was to separate them from “whistle-blower” employees during an investigation of their activities.

     Hammer was placed on paid administrative leave by then Mayor Wayne Willich from Nov. 18 through Dec. 27 of last year and again by Mayor Briscoe from Jan. 5-19 of this year. Based on Hammer’s fiscal 2012 salary of $120,824, the city paid Hammer $28,452 for paid administrative leave in fiscal 2012, according to figures supplied to the Mountain Express by Interim Executive Assistant to the Mayor Virginia Egger.

     Hammer’s contract with the city was terminated—with no stated cause—on Jan. 19. Hammer was paid six months base salary severance in the amount of $60,412 plus $20,266 for vacation at termination. The severance payment was contingent upon Hammer’s agreeing to not sue the city regarding her termination, Kirtlan Naylor, a Boise attorney representing the city, stated in a January email to the Express.

     For not working and for getting the boot, Hammer cashed city checks for $109,130, plus benefits.

     Jeff Carnes was placed on paid administrative leave by Willich from Dec. 20, 2011, through Jan. 3, 2012, and again by Briscoe from Jan. 5 to the present. Based on Jeff Carnes’ fiscal 2012 salary of $107,156 plus a $6,000 housing allowance, totaling $113,157, he has been paid $82,806.79 so far for paid administrative leave in fiscal 2012.

     “Cristina Carnes’ file does not include a record of when she was placed on leave,” Egger said. “But there is a memo requesting her return by Mayor Willich on Jan. 3, 2012.”

     That’s the same date her husband was returned to active duty.

     “Her file also includes documentation of an action placing her back on leave on Jan. 5,” Egger said.

     That’s the same date her husband was placed back on paid administrative leave.

     “There is no record, but there is an indication that she must have been placed on leave at the same time as Jeff Carnes,” Egger said. “She is currently on paid administrative leave.”

     Based on Cristina Carnes’ fiscal 2012 wage of $23.72 per hour for 21 hours per week, the city has paid her $19,375.96 so far for paid administrative leave in fiscal 2012.

     Nick Carnes, a paid on-call firefighter for the city and Jeff and Cristina Carnes’ son, was notified on Jan. 5 that he “will not be available nor called out as a paid Fire Department volunteer,” Egger wrote in an email to the Express.

     “[Nick Carnes] is not receiving pay from the city of Sun Valley,” Egger stated.

     However, in an email to the Express on Tuesday she clarified her previous statement to include a sum of $96 paid to Nick Carnes for an unknown reason between Jan. 5 and when she arrived on Feb. 8.

     Lastly, Assistant Police Chief Crawford was charged with a misdemeanor DUI last month after he allegedly backed into a parked car on Main Street in Hailey three times on the evening of Aug. 11. He is scheduled to be arraigned in Blaine County Magistrate Court on Sept. 11. Following the incident, Crawford was placed on paid administrative leave on Aug. 20. Based on Crawford’s fiscal 2012 salary of $88,317, the city has paid him $3,397 so far for paid administrative leave in fiscal 2012, plus benefits.

     How do public employees stay busy when they’re on paid administrative leave?

     “I’ve been doing stuff with my kids,” Jeff Carnes said.

     He said he “doesn’t know” why he and Cristina Carnes were placed on paid administrative leave or why Nick Carnes was told he would not be on call or receive pay from the city.

     “What I read in the papers is what I know,” he said. “I was floored when I found out I wouldn’t be working. It was very emotional. I’ve worked for the city for a long time. It wasn’t easy.”

     Jeff Carnes said he has not been in contact with the city.

     “I haven’t talked to anyone in Sun Valley,” he said. “I’ve just been waiting to hear.”

     On Thursday, Briscoe declined to comment on whether the city had been in contact with the Carnes family. However, he did say he believed that members of the family had been contacted by Hagen, Streiff, Newton & Oshiro, the Newport Beach, Calif.,-based accounting firm whose Seattle office Sun Valley contracted in April to conduct a forensic audit of the city. The audit is to “ascertain if any fraud has occurred,” Briscoe said last month.

     “I have been informed by some citizens that the Carneses have told some constituents that they have been interviewed by the forensic auditors and the office of the Attorney General,” Briscoe said.

     Briscoe and the City Council received the forensic audit report in an executive session on Aug. 24. However, the public may not get to see it for some time as the report and its supporting documents were subpoenaed by Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas on Aug. 28.

     The subpoena was issued pursuant to a grand jury investigation involving “former and or present employees of the city of Sun Valley.”

Additional $156K paid for tort-claim settlements

In addition to the money Sun Valley has paid this year for work that the city isn’t getting and for personnel-related legal fees, $156,127 has been spent by the city’s liability insurance carrier to settle tort claims filed against the city by two former city employees.

                In June, the Idaho Counties Risk Management Program, the city’s liability insurance carrier, paid $72,000—of which $7,000 was for attorney costs—to former City Clerk Kelly Ek to settle a tort claim filed by Ek against the city. In the tort claim, Ek alleged that former City Administrator Sharon Hammer and former Mayor Wayne Willich created a hostile work environment.

                Later the same month, ICRMP paid $84,127—of which $13,519 was for attorney costs—to former Finance Manager and Treasurer Michelle Frostenson to settle her tort claim. Frostenson alleged that Hammer and other city employees had “abused their respective positions and had thereby misappropriated city assets in various ways.”

                Interim Executive Assistant to the Mayor Virginia Egger declined to comment on whether the settlement payments would result in financial repercussions for the city. She did say that the insurance carrier had renewed the city’s policy for fiscal 2013.

Brennan Rego:

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