midst allegations of a lack of cooperation from the human resources director, the director of administration and the county commissioners, Platte County Auditor did hit on one topic where she’ll get no argument from the commissioners: There are problems in the human resources department.
The human resources department handles payroll and benefits issues for county employees. On Friday, Siobhann Williams, county auditor, held a press conference in which she announced that she is in the process of auditing the county’s human resources (HR) department. She provided the media a list of problems she says her office has uncovered with payroll issues over the past two and a half years. She also claimed the human resources office, director of administration Dana Babcock, and the county commission have repeatedly refused her requests for information and records so that her office may conduct a complete audit of the department.
The county commissioners and Babcock all deny they have refused to cooperate, citing confidentiality issues and a lack of manpower in the human resources department that prevented a response to the auditor’s request for information within the time frame sought by the auditor.
The human resources department was created by the county commission on Jan. 1, 2000. Previously, county payroll and benefits had been handled by the county clerk’s office.
Williams provided the media with a 2007 memo she sent to the county commission listing several pages of problems and mistakes that had been made by the human resources department in payroll matters.
County commissioners Jim Plunkett and Betty Knight this week told The Landmark those problems had already been dealt with. As new problems came to light recently, the county commission responded with personnel moves. Commissioners say human resources department manager LeAnna Fannon has been demoted. A few weeks ago, Fannon had been placed on administrative leave, the commissioners told The Landmark.
Knight and Plunkett indicated the county is now seeking to hire a professional human resources director. Knight said the goal is to have an experienced HR director hired within the next few weeks. The hiring may result in a need for an increased budget in the HR department, though both Knight and Plunkett said with the state of the economy the move may not end up costing the county more than it is currently paying for salaries in the department.
“I hope we can at least be close to budget,” Knight said.
Plunkett said he wants the new hiring and future operations of the HR office to be done in a cost-effective manner. He mentioned the county has looked at the possibility of eventually outsourcing the payroll responsibilities, but no decision has yet been made.
“We’ll look at every cost-effective option,” Plunkett told The Landmark Tuesday.
Williams says the human resources department has “massive problems.” She cited a lack of checks and balances and a complete lack of oversight.
Oversight of the human resources department, she said, is in the hands of Babcock and the county commissioner.
Among the problems, according to Williams, is the apparent paying of benefits to people who are no longer employees of the county, and even one case where she claims the county continued to pay insurance benefits for an employee a year after the employee’s death.
The human resources office, however, denies insurance benefits were paid beyond the date of the employee’s death. The department says the deceased employee’s name continued to appear on the bill but no actual payment of premium for the deceased was made.
Williams responded by saying: “On several occasions we have also paid amounts that the insurance carriers said were past due and they threatened to cancel our coverage if we did not pay. HR promised to provide an accounting later and there was usually no follow through. This is part of what has been causing these problems. The issue of the deceased employee was raised with the HR department earlier this year and they did not provide any response to that item at the time. A credit should have been provided to our account for amounts that were billed but not owed.”
Williams said in her press conference on Friday that Babcock in particular was not happy with the probe into the HR department.
“She is unhappy with our investigation. She has told me I couldn’t audit the department because it is a personnel matter. She has said in an email that my request for information is unreasonable, that I’m asking for too much.”
County commissioners and Babcock say part of the delay in getting requested information to the auditor is a confidentiality issue. Williams’ had requested confidential employee records in order to complete her audit. The commission had been advised by its insurance company attorney not to allow those records to leave the HR office, and offered to have the auditor come to the HR office to look at the information she needed.
This week, Knight told The Landmark an agreement has been reached under which confidential employee information will be redacted from copies that will be provided to the auditor.
Williams said she wants to be clear on the purpose of the audit.
“The purpose is to evaluate and make recommendations to strengthen the practices and procedures of the HR department. Our focus is on safeguards and controls to ensure that the employees of the county receive the pay and benefits that they are owed and that taxpayer dollars are spent properly and wisely,” the auditor remarked.
“My hope is that we will receive the documents we need and proceed with our audit,” Williams said Friday, indicating she had spoken to private legal counsel about the possibility of getting a court order to obtain the documents if the need to do so should arise.
Plunkett said he is surprised the auditor didn’t catch these issues earlier in the process.
“You can’t buy a pencil without the auditor knowing about it,” he told The Landmark on Tuesday, referring to the county’s process of issuing warrants for payment.
Some of the items Williams says she has noticed as problems in the HR department:
•The county assessor was given a cost of living pay raise in error.
•Several county employees received inaccurate pay.
•Numerous instances of overpayments and underpayments of federal, state and local payroll taxes.
•Mistakes in handling the Kansas City earnings tax on employees who work at the county’s resource center, which is located with the city limits of Kansas City.
•Apparent overpayment of benefit vendors totaling more than $6,700.
•Incorrect reporting of employee use of county vehicles.
•Improper handling of employee wage garnishments, including instances where the county paid wage garnishments but the money to do so had not been withheld from the employee’s checks.
•Paying employees based on estimated time rather than on actual time worked.
•A practice of allowing employees to take paid time off before it is earned.