TALLAHASSEE — Two officials at the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles have resigned after state workers were sent to clean up damage from Hurricane Michael at the Georgia home of one of the officials, the department said Tuesday.
Kelley Scott, the department's director of administrative services, and William "Shane" Phillips, chief of office services, handed in their resignations following an investigation by the department's inspector general.
Scott failed to report a "possible ethics violation" relating to state workers taking department vehicles and equipment to her storm-damaged property in Colquitt, Georgia, in October, investigators concluded in a written report released to the Miami Herald. And Phillips was "not forthcoming with information" during the investigation into possible misuse of state resources, according to the report.
But investigators said state employees performed no repairs or other work after making the hour-long trip from Tallahassee to Georgia, leaving Scott's property soon after they arrived.
"As public employees, we are all vested with a duty to make sound decisions as stewards of our state resources," Terry Rhodes, the highway department's executive director, said in a statement Tuesday. "We carry this responsibility with us 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This duty cannot be ignored or delegated, irrespective of the circumstances."
Scott, an attorney who joined the department in 2016 after working for other state agencies for more than a decade, made $120,000 per year. Phillips made $91,000. Their resignations take effect Jan. 3.
Hurricane Michael hit the Florida Panhandle on Oct. 10. The powerful storm killed at least 43 people. Coastal towns were leveled, including Panama City, where 60 percent of homes were destroyed. In Mexico Beach, just 500 of the town's 2,700 homes were inhabitable as of Monday.
The allegations that state workers cleaned up Scott's property were made in an anonymous letter sent to the department. The Herald first reported the complaint in late October. The investigation began the same day the Herald story was published.
According to investigators, three state employees — a maintenance mechanic, equipment operator and a facilities manager — logged time for the day of traveling to and from Scott's home across state lines.
Scott was offered personal generators and chainsaws by co-workers after she reported her property was damaged and she would miss work. But she said she did not follow up on those offers.
Instead, Phillips told Scott that he was putting together a plan to send "a couple of guys" and disaster trailers to clear her property.
When Phillips asked the department's chief administrative officer, Lisa Bassett, about the plan, she said "absolutely not," according to the report. She explained it would be a risk for the state and a misuse of state property, but "he and Scott put Bassett's concerns to the side," investigators said.
A trailer purchased by the state to help with cleanup for hurricane response was hitched to a department van and pulled to Scott's residence. One hour later, Phillips was told by the chief of staff he was not authorized to send state employees and called them back to Tallahassee. They left Scott with two tarps and claimed state time for the effort.
Some staff told investigators that they first learned of the initial trip from the story published in the Herald. One staff member, Terry Stallings, yelled "I can't believe they're doing that!" as the trailer left from the parking lot. Stallings, who was once suspended by Scott, went to the Tallahassee Democrat with the story.
The chief of staff, Jennifer Langston, told investigators she was "mortified" when she found out the specifics of what was happening and that the crew was not approved by Bassett.
The next day, Bassett and other department officials took the day off and drove their personal vehicles to Scott's residence to help clear her property of debris.
The home, just across the Florida-Georgia state line, is valued at $130,000, according to property records.
The department's budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year was $500 million, with just under $23 million dedicated to the Division of Administrative Services.
The division oversees 252 employees, who are paid $16.1 million in salaries and benefits annually. As director of administrative services, Scott's duties included providing "administrative support and services to all other divisions, including the maintenance of equipment, buildings, systems, services and other items essential to the day-to-day operations and mission of the department," Beth Frady, the department's spokeswoman, said.
In a statement to investigators, Scott said the cleanup effort was a "bad decision that should not have happened."
— This story was written by Samantha J. Gross and Nicholas Nehamas