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Trust eroded until Zephyrhills police chief undone

Zephyrhills City Manager Steve Spina acknowledges Russell Barnes aided the growth and development of the city Police Department. But Barnes' positive contributions came undone amid lax oversight of a subordinate's time sheets and an elaborate deception to cover up the wrongdoing.

Barnes resigned as police chief Wednesday morning, 65 minutes before the City Council was to consider Spina's recommendation to fire him after close to five years heading the department.

"There is no credibility left,'' Spina said afterward.

Barnes, according to an internal affairs investigation, falsified records and manufactured a so-called flex time sheet after Sgt. Rob Perrault was accused of collecting city police pay at the same time he was off duty and teaching classes at Pasco-Hernando Community College. Amid the investigation, Perrault resigned to accept a position as a public school teacher.

Barnes, in his resignation letter, said his departure was not an admission of guilt. Regardless of his protests, it is clear Barnes lied to Spina and to the public in August 2007 when he produced the flex-time record to defend Perrault against a charge of double-dipping. The accusation came from Kenneth Fong, a fired employee turned whistle-blower.

The city rekindled the investigation after Fong requested payroll records and a review showed Perrault was at PHCC while city documents showed him on police duty. In total, Perrault is suspected of collecting more than $2,100 from the city for hours during which he was not on duty.

In one instance, Perrault was paid by Zephyrhills for working eight hours on Feb. 14, 2007, even though Barnes' chart showed the sergeant did not use any flex time, vacation or compensatory time. Perrault's work calendar was marked off, then someone scratched over the notation and added "here.'' In an Aug. 16 e-mail to journalists, Perrault said he did use eight hours of flex time that day.

Internal affairs investigator Jeffrey McDougal concluded it was Barnes who altered Perrault's calendar and characterized it as "a deliberate untruth and is attributed to Chief Barnes individually.''

This wasn't Barnes first instance of dubious judgment. He received a written reprimand in spring 2007 after he purchased police vehicles from a dealership that was not awarded the bid on the Florida Sheriff's Association state contract. A few months earlier he had ordered $50,000 worth of Tasers before obtaining City Council approval as is required for purchases of more than $10,000.

In those instances, however, city officials excused Barnes' behavior because there were no suspicions of improper intent. Basically, he was careless about following the rules.

Not so, now. The sloppiness of Barnes' supervision of Perrault, his inability to follow payroll rules and the overwhelming deceit afterward correctly cost Barnes his position as the top law enforcement officer in Zephyrhills.

Trust eroded until Zephyrhills police chief undone 08/19/08 [Last modified: Saturday, August 23, 2008 1:14pm]
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