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DJFS under fire

Union critical; Myers defends actions

What their union is calling unethical practices, members of AFSCME Local 3319 of the department of job and family services came to Lawrence County Commission to say “enough.”

Their concerns focused on two examples of funds that state audits eventually said had been improperly used. One was for $380,000 in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families that funded EMS training and the 4E program of the county juvenile court.

“Our own agency and its clientele were in desperate need of these funds,” Belinda Brown, Local 3319 president, told the commission at its Monday meeting. “Who did approve the moving or appropriation of these funds?”

Brown also discussed overpaying the DJFS fiscal officer more than $11,000 that former director Gene Myers said was for overtime. However, the employee said he thought the money was a raise. After an audit determined it was incorrectly allocated, Myers repaid the amount from his own pocket.

The state is requiring the county commission repay the $380,000 in TANF funds, which it is doing over a five-year period.

At the time of the fiscal officer’s overpayment in salary, “there was a children service/union employee still laid off — a single mother with two small children who had been laid off from her job from April 6, 2009 through Jan. 23, 2012,” Brown said. “Also during this time, all labor union employees had gone without a pay increase for five years, being told that there was not enough funding. We were being denied overtime, being told that all work duties could be fulfilled during regular work hours.

“We were also working with a skeleton crew and being denied new hires to replace positions that were being vacated and that were already budgeted for. Who approved this raise overtime and how could that happen with a laid off employee on record.”

“We are here because no one, as of this date and as far as we can see, has been held accountable for these actions and we feel that these actions are no less than a disgrace and an abuse of power — a symptom that is eating away and destroying our county.”

Commission president Les Boggs responded that as far as the fiscal officer’s overtime, Myers said he either needed hiring an additional employee or approving overtime for the fiscal offices.

“You are the director, do what is best,” Boggs said the commission told Myers. “That is the last we heard until we heard the money had to be paid back.”

On the issue of the $380,000, Myers told the commission that he had a one-time opportunity to offer funds for the start-up of the Lawrence County EMS. The commission acted upon information given to it, Boggs said.

“To say something unethical was done,” Boggs said. “The commission doesn’t run DJFS on a daily basis, 911 on a daily basis. We depend on what those people tell us.”

Brown said Myers was investigated by the state, but not suspended.

“You are the commission,” she said. “You have oversight. Nothing was done.”

“When you have to pay back $11,000 from your own pocket,” Boggs responded.

“I don’t know why he wasn’t suspended,” she asked. “He couldn’t drive the agency car.”

“I didn’t know anyone was investigated,” Boggs said.

“Nothing was going to be done to him,” Brown said. “Going forward in the future, how can we prevent one man from destroying an agency.”

“We have prevented it by hiring Terry Porter,” commission Bill Pratt said.

Myers, who retired in 2015 after 30 years at the agency, defended his actions at the agency.

“Any of my actions were solely to help the clients of the agency,” he said. “Any were solely to help the clients we serve and personnel of the agency. Those accusations were the result of an audit and those things have been addressed. The funds they were speaking of were not for wages. It was to provide services.”

Myers said there was an investigation but it followed what he termed corrective actions toward some employees.

‘They did investigate it,” he said. “Nothing came of it. (The state) did their job. I did my job. They want to review themselves before they start throwing accusations. I believe their wages, salaries and benefits increased substantially over my tenure.”

He cited the recessions of 2008, 2009 and 2010 taking its toll on the agency.

“My actions from that time period was through a lean time,” Myers said. “I can’t be held accountable for the Great Recession. There were a lot of management decisions that saved people’s job.”

Myers worked with a $12 million budget and over 17 years as administrator the majority of audits were favorable.

“They discuss one problem area coming off the Great Recession,” he said.