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By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter

 

Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley confirmed on Monday that he had placed human resources clerk Jennifer Hodnick, who handles payroll for county employees, on unpaid leave for two weeks because of issues with the way accrued vacation and sick pay have been administered in Dade.

But he soft-pedaled any whiff of wrongdoing. “There was no stealing involved,” he said. “If it was a matter of anything like that, she would have been fired on the spot.”

Rather, he said, Ms. Hodnick had become set in her ways and needed what he called an “attitude change.”  

“Sometimes you can work at a place long enough, you get too comfortable,” said Rumley. 

Ms. Hodnick was hired during the administration of Rumley’s predecessor, Ben Brandon, who served from 2005-2009. Currently, she writes all payroll checks for county employees, said Rumley. Since the advent of new HR software, he reported, he no longer signs the checks manually, though he is able to review them online.

In question specifically in this case, said the county boss, is accounting for vacation and sick time. Precisely how much time is due whom is fairly simple to calculate for hourly employees, but: “Salaried people, it’s hard to go into the system and say how much vacation you’ve got,” said Rumley.

This becomes important from a fiscal point of view because, as it stands, county employees are allowed to cash in their accumulated vacation and sick time for additional pay, which Rumley says happens from time to time when, say, an employee needs money for a medical or other emergency.

Additionally, he confirmed, employees – including those who, like Ms. Hodnick, work directly in the county commission office – routinely claim payouts for accrued time at the end of the year.

The county’s auditors have advised Dade to change this, said Rumley. “The auditors recommend that you take it or you lose it,” he said. “You don’t keep accruing until you’ve got hundreds of hours.”

Rumley said he and the other commissioners had taken the auditors’ recommendations into consideration along with observations they had made independently, and had decided to suspend Ms. Hodnick after a review of her work.

“It’s her duty to go by the book,” he said. “This is stuff we felt she should have picked up on.” 

Rumley said that he and one of the auditors met with Ms. Hodnick last week in the company of Robin Rogers, the county attorney, and of District 3 County Commissioner Robert Goff, and that following that interview Ms. Hodnick would remain on unpaid leave for this week and next week.

“It wasn’t anything serious enough to terminate her,” insisted Rumley in a telephone interview.

But he said Ms. Hodnick had disagreed with the commission’s findings and recommendations and needed to be brought into line. “She’s got to agree with this or she’s going to be gone,” he said.

Rumley said the reason for the suspension inserted into Ms. Hodnick’s personnel file was “inaccuracy in wage reports,” and that those “inaccuracies” included reporting her own sick or vacation time.

He said the auditors originally found about $4,400 in questionable payouts, but that after going through the figures together they and his office had brought it down to around $1,300.

In their presentation to the Dade County Commission at its February meeting, auditors Jason Martin and Ladell McCullough of the Chattanooga accounting firm Henderson Hutcherson McCullough told the commissioners they saw no major problems with the county’s books, though they specified Dade had deficiencies that could only be addressed with more monitoring.

But in the “Management Points” section of their review, the accountants spelled out: “Management has no formal process in place for tracking paid time off for salaried individuals. Someone in an authoritative role should approve all paid time off prior to commencement. Another individual should also review the payroll registers periodically to make certain that approved paid time off is appropriately recorded.”

The next management point, seemingly more serious, mentions the payroll clerk specifically: “During our review of salary expenditures we noted several salary changes for the payroll clerk throughout the fiscal year with no documentation. All salary adjustments should be approved by Commission or department head, as designated by the Board of Commissioners. We recommend that someone outside the payroll process review payroll periodically to ensure that payroll is accurately disbursed, as approved by the Commission.”

But asked about that point, Rumley denied it referred to Ms. Hodnick giving herself raises or bonuses.  Rather, he said, in question were three sheriff’s department employees who were all promoted following the departure of longtime Chief Deputy Jackie Womack.

Danny Ellis took Womack’s job, said Rumley, and two other deputies, Tommy Bradford and Matt Cole, were subsequently bumped up in the pecking order. 

Womack had left over a year before, but the pay raises associated with the three promotions weren’t instituted until last August or September, after then-Sheriff Cannon had lost the Republican primary to current Sheriff Ray Cross.  

Rumley said he didn’t know if the pay raises had been retroactive or if lump sums had been issued to the three employees as a result.

Meanwhile, Rumley said Robert Goff, who worked in HR at UPS before retirement, is already revising the county employee handbook to address points of this nature. 

Though Rumley was cautious about commenting specifically on how the handbook would be changed, he said the amendments might not be popular with everyone. “There’s a lot of things that we’re going to adjust,” he said. “We’re going to ruffle a lot of feathers.”

He said his office had already instituted a fingerprint time clock system to make sure no one could clock in on behalf of anyone else, and that salaried employees would now be treated identically with hourly employees in terms of vacation and sick time. 

Rumley down played Ms. Hodnick’s suspension with the observation that Dade employees are routinely corrected without making headlines. “You have to discipline people,” he said.

The Sentinel will report more on this issue as records become available.


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