Second ‘retirement’ rocks county Aging Commission
The person who was second-in-command for the Leelanau Commission on Aging (CoA) has retired, joining her former boss in leaving her post amidst allegations of conspiring to alter mileage reimbursement paid to employees.
That leaves the CoA — the third-largest department in county government — down to one full-time employee in Nancy Begeman, who was cleaning up the lower level of the county government building Tuesday following a senior citizen euchre tournament when asked about the effects of the retirements. Two part-time secretaries that work 15- and 20-hour work weeks, respectively, also remain on staff.
“There are three of us here, and we’re all working very hard. We will continue to provide the services to the seniors,” Begeman said.
The CoA is in the midst of a shake-up from the top down following an investigation by county administrator Chet Janik that turned up massaged work sheets and mileage reports used to determine compensation for the county’s 14 homemakers working in seniors’ homes. Long-time CoA director Rosie Steffens submitted a retirement letter to Janik on the day after the two met to review evidence behind the allegations. Her sudden retirement and the allegations ignited a slew of complaints from seniors who extolled the work of Steffens in meeting the needs of senior citizens in Leelanau County.
On Friday, the CoA lost a second full-time employee.
Madonna Jackson, an 18-year employee of Leelanau County, worked in the county Treasurer’s office before accepting the position of administrative assistant to the CoA on Feb. 10, 2003. She was hired shortly after a dedicated millage was approved in Leelanau County to fund an expansion of senior services. She was paid $13.53 per hour to start, and was making $21.03 per hour upon her retirement.
Janik said that Steffens contended she was not involved in the manipulation of work sheets and other documents used to inflate the mileage of housekeepers. However, Steffens said she did instruct housekeepers to charge the county mileage to and from their homes to work sites — even if they did not return home between house cleaning locations. County policy allows for only one-way reimbursement.
Jackson compiled paperwork submitted to the county Clerk’s office used to compile mileage reimbursement. She was placed on paid administrative leave Aug. 21, by Janik, and met with him two days later to discuss evidence behind the latest round of discrepancies.
“We reviewed the evidence, and when we got done with our meeting she told me she was going to write her letter of retirement,” Janik said. “One of her main duties and responsibilities was payroll ... it’s her responsibility to make sure the payrolls are accurate.”
Jackson did not discuss the mileage issue in a one-sentence retirement letter dated Friday, Aug. 24. It read: “Thank you for the opportunity of working as a Leelanau County employee. However, I am retiring as of today to pursue personal interests.”
The extra mileage costs have added up, and may total as much as $60,000 over several years, Janik believes. He is considering hiring a forensic auditor to review all CoA books “to see if any other issues have not been uncovered yet. It appears there may be similar issues with other vendors, in terms of paying too much or cases in which contracts were not followed.”
One change may help: The CoA books will be converted to the accounting system used by other county offices, Janik said. The CoA, which had operated in many ways as an independent body because of its dedicated millage, had used a bookkeeping system that caused the department to appear to have less of a fund balance than showed on the county accounting system.
Mileage reimbursement discrepancies were not detected by the county Clerk’s office because preliminary paper work was handled — and apparently at times altered — within the CoA department.
Janik said he was told by a State Police detective investigating the issue that criminal charges would not be brought. No evidence has surfaced indicating that Steffens or Jackson benefitted personally from the inflated mileage checks received by housekeepers.
The revelations have started a process to re-evaluate the role of the CoA and its services in Leelanau County. The housekeepers were asked by Janik to form a committee to address their concerns, Janik said. He anticipates that they may receive raises to keep their pay level in line with past compensation that included overpayment of mileage. And the former head of the Area Agency on Aging was hired by Janik to review the department; he has already sent out surveys seeking opinions on the future of the department.
The CoA will be at the center of a special meeting of the County Board of Commissioners set for Sept. 11 at 1:30 p.m., at which several reports are expected:
• County auditors will report on the results of their investigation into income and payroll tax outcomes of the over-sized mileage checks. Housekeepers and the county will likely owe back-taxes;
• Janik will provide a time-frame for hiring a new CoA director;
• The role of the CoA board of directors will be discussed. The CoA board works under the County Board, Janik said. Under former director Steffens, the CoA worked more as an independent body.
• Former county administrator David Gill will address the County Board. He was accused by Steffens of directing her to disregard the county mileage policy, something Gill in an interview last week with the Enterprise vehemently denied.
“It’s going to be an interesting meeting,” Janik said. “But there is no discussion about eliminating the Commission on Aging, because that’s one of the rumors out there.”