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Hernando County utilities worker fired for falsifying time sheets

BROOKSVILLE — A county utilities employee has been fired for falsifying his time sheets, spending much of his time working as a utility consultant for a private company and conducting personal business at work.

His supervisor, assistant utilities director and comptroller Chuck Lewis, has been demoted.

The actions came as the result of a followup payroll operations audit by Clerk of Circuit Court Karen Nicolai that was released late Friday.

Overall, the audit showed a continuing issue with work time record inaccuracies in county government — with problems in 25 percent of the records examined. The scrutiny showed "strong payroll deception indicators'' in the time sheets of Gary Morse, whose title is listed as plan rate specialist in the Utilities Department.

"The auditor found no evidence the employee worked the regular hours claimed and (he) may have overstated his hours by as much as 38 percent,'' wrote the clerk's audit services director, Peggy Caskie.

Caskie also found that during work hours, Morse was doing consulting work for Hometown America, a large manufactured-home developer based in Chicago. Morse is listed as a utilities consultant for a project by the company in a recent filing with the Florida Public Service Commission.

In violation of county policy, Morse had not filed a notice of conflict of interest explaining that he had outside work.

The audit also turned up that Morse "expended labor hours on non-county work-related activities such as shopping, Internet, e-mails and telephone calls and that he substituted work hours with sick and vacation to maintain his full-time status.

"There is indication that the employee didn't have a sufficient workload to stay busy,'' Caskie wrote.

She reported her findings to the county's fraud assessment team and to Joe Stapf, the county's director of environmental services. Morse was terminated March 24.

Hired in October 2005, Morse earned an annual salary of $63,086.40 with additional benefits totaling $21,580.51. He took with him a cash-out of $2,513.51.

After referring Morse's case to the county's human resources office, Caskie continued her look at his direct supervisor, Lewis. Several personnel-related issues also arose with him.

He also was not in compliance with the conflict-of-interest policy and had not reported that, while he was employed by the county, he had worked for a private company in 2000 and 2001, had testified in a private hearing for a company in 2001 and was president of two private companies between 1999 and 2005.

Lewis was aware that Morse worked on county time for the private company. Last summer, he warned Morse about performing private consulting work, and he cautioned him about the number and nature of personal cell phone calls he received at work. The behavior continued through the audit.

Lewis also didn't do his job to supervise Morse to make sure that he was working his scheduled hours, Caskie concluded. They worked closely together, and Lewis should have known Morse was putting in for time he wasn't working on county tasks and that he was using sick and vacation time to maintain his full-time status.

"Instead of taking disciplinary action to alleviate the concern, in the two most recent annual employee evaluations, the supervisor highly rated the employee in attendance, punctuality and productivity,'' Caskie wrote. "There is no disciplinary action documented in the employee's personnel file.''

She also found that Lewis was "expending considerable labor hours performing non-county work-related activities for personal benefit within a county building or property on county time,'' such as surfing the Internet, sending e-mails, shopping during work hours with his subordinate and actively looking for employment and communicating with potential employers.

Lewis will be demoted effective May 16 and placed in a nonsupervisory position.

A county employee since 1999, Lewis had been earning $89,315.20 and receiving benefits totaling $23,813.72. His salary after demotion will drop to $79,123.20 with benefits totaling $23,785.52.

Neither Morse nor Lewis could be reached for comment late Friday.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Hernando County utilities worker fired for falsifying time sheets 05/06/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 6, 2011 6:47pm]
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