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Whistle-blower lawsuit takes issue with overtime at Pasco Housing Authority

DADE CITY — Time cards from the Pasco County Housing Authority show a maintenance man more than doubled his salary through overtime during a key eight-month stretch mentioned in a lawsuit that has sparked a major overhaul of the agency.

A former finance director for the agency filed a whistle-blower lawsuit claiming maintenance staffer Bill Dillon was granted extra overtime by former executive director Karen Turner. The suit claims Dillon was Turner's "paramour."

"Why would the executive director allow (or require) an employee to work more than 40 or 50 hours of overtime in 13 different pay periods throughout the year?" Maggie Taffs wrote in an October 2009 letter attached to her lawsuit. Citing the agency's personnel manual, she said, "this was probably not the most 'economical way of meeting workloads.' "

Dillon, in an interview with the Times on Thursday, denied having a personal relationship with Turner. "It was all business," he said.

He said all the overtime was justified and that Taffs is simply trying to smear former co-workers she didn't like.

"I just can't believe how many people are so vindictive," said Dillon, 57. "I don't know why it keeps going on and on. There's just no solid foundation to any of it."

The Times obtained time cards for more than a dozen maintenance workers from October 2007 through May 2008. Dillon received by far the most overtime during that period, just more than 1,000 hours. Don Franklin, the agency's maintenance supervisor, logged the second most overtime hours — 240.

The documents show that during that time, Dillon averaged 72-hour weeks. In February alone, he was on the clock more than 110 hours a week.

Dillon said he earned the overtime by completing a major renovation of the agency's Dade City headquarters. That included painting all of the interior walls, adding new tile and replacing all of the carpet. The time cards show he worked on the project from at least October until March.

"He had hours that he worked his regular job," said Abigail Jackson, an administrative assistant at the agency. "Then there were hours that he worked after his regular shift to work (on the renovation). I think he did have some help here and there, but he mostly just did it on his own."

Interim executive director Linda Wright declined to comment for this story.

Just a few months before the renovations, Dillon's daughter and 15-month-old grandson were murdered. In July 2007, Paula O'Conner was found strangled in her home in a north St. Petersburg neighborhood. Her son Alijah suffocated.

Police targeted O'Conner's ex-lover, former Air Force Sgt. Ralph "Ron" Wright Jr. He was arrested a year and a half after the killings and is awaiting trial on two counts of first-degree murder.

Dillon keeps clippings of the case that ran on the front page of metro newspapers.

"I was flipping out," Dillon said. He took three days off for the funeral, then focused on his job to take his mind off the grief. "I dug in and went to work. I did a lot for this company."

Taffs included the heftiest time card in her wrongful termination lawsuit. That document, covering the first two weeks of February 2008, includes a notation for 26 work hours in a day. Dillon said that day included work hours from another day and that he didn't precisely fill out the time card because he was tired from working so much.

During that pay period, Dillon worked 242 hours. He worked 14 days in a row, taking a lunch on four of them. Starting on Feb. 7, he was continuously on the clock for 21/2 days.

Shelly Johnson, the Housing Authority's general counsel, said in a previous interview that there was "obviously some error in how they documented it." But she said an investigation accounted for all the hours. After Taff's allegations, she said, the Housing Authority adopted a new policy that requires board approval for any overtime exceeding $1,000.

Dillon earned $11,500 in overtime tied to the renovations, slightly less than his regular pay during that time. He also earned $4,000 in overtime from other projects.

Johnson said the investigation was limited to the single time card in Taffs' lawsuit. That means the agency hasn't reviewed the other 800 hours of overtime earned during that time period, much of it for the office renovation. Dillon said he welcomes the review.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are doing a "comprehensive" audit of the agency's finances. That review is expected to be finished in the next few weeks.

HUD spokeswoman Gloria Shanahan did not say whether the review specifically includes the time card allegations, though she said officials are reviewing all money the Housing Authority received from HUD.

"They need to demonstrate how those funds for each item were used," Shanahan said.

Officials at the $15.1 million agency that provides shelter for poor people have downplayed the lawsuit and said it soon will be dismissed. But since its explosive details surfaced in the press last month, the Housing Authority has been reeling.

Former employee Pat Driscoll, 66, said he had dated Turner for several years and that they had sex during work hours in the agency's main office. Agency officials questioned Driscoll's veracity. Turner admitted to a personal relationship with Driscoll but not in the office.

Turner, who had run the agency since 2000, resigned two weeks ago, citing health reasons. Federal officials are conducting a full audit of the agency's financial records. And one lawmaker asked Gov. Rick Scott to replace all of the housing authority's board of directors.

Turner, 47, has declined to comment. Taffs filed her lawsuit in February, claiming she was wrongfully fired for pointing out several instances of mismanagement at the agency. Taffs has not returned several phone calls, and her lawyer declined to comment. She is asking for $460,000.

Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6236. Researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report.

Whistle-blower lawsuit takes issue with overtime at Pasco Housing Authority 09/17/11 [Last modified: Saturday, September 17, 2011 12:57pm]
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