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Audit: Investigation shows at least $75K loss for Salina

Published: Aug. 17, 2021 at 4:41 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Residents in Salina say they want answers after an investigation found that for years, chiefs of staff with the city’s fire department were paid for days they were not working but claiming to the city that they were.

A forensic auditor who confirmed what the chiefs of staff were doing said she believes it had been happening for years, but that fire department records only dated back to 2014. Because of that, true cost to taxpayers isn’t known. Now some of those taxpayers want to know what the city plans to do next.

Monday evening, Salina residents attended a meeting, questioning the city’s actions once it confirmed that, for years, leadership with the fire department were claiming they worked days they didn’t and then sold unused vacation days to the city to the tune of more than $75,000.

The scope period, from 2014 to 2020 shows a loss of $75,373.73, the audit showed. The forensic auditor looked at the timecards of Salina Fire Department chiefs of staff she said took vacation days but told the city they were working.

“I think a lot of this boils down to, who knew what and when did they know it?” Salina Mayor Melissa Hodges said. “Well, it just doesn’t seem to be much of a sense of urgency, and we didn’t stop the wrongdoing when we found it.”

With the true cost to taxpayers being unknown with records only dating back to 2014, Salina Commissioner Aaron Peck said, “the numbers that are represented are conservative numbers, relative to probably what went on.”

The forensic auditor said a search of the chiefs of staff emails shows once word of her investigation got out, those chiefs continued to claim to the city they were working when they weren’t but changed the way they classified those days off to make it more difficult to uncover during her audit.

“I think that this started way back in 2007, from the analysis, was an ongoing practice that was happening with no real secrecy about it, through most of the time until when it may have surfaced about an investigation looking into this and it became pretty quiet,” the auditor said. “Yet the activity still happened.”

Others who attended Monday night’s meeting are asking more questions and demanding action.

“When are we going to quit hiding the facts?” one resident asked. “When are we going to start prosecuting the people who freakin’ steal money from the city and quit washing this underneath the table?”

The Salina City Manager said it now becomes a personnel issue that wouldn’t be open to the public. When city attorneys were asked about possible legal action, there was no definitive answer provided.

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