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What’s next after investigation into Salina Fire Dept?

Auditor finds time theft, city plans for future
Last August, a Factfinder 12 investigation uncovered allegations of time theft within the City of Salina fire department.
Updated: Mar. 9, 2022 at 10:00 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Last August, a Factfinder 12 investigation uncovered allegations of time theft within the City of Salina fire department. That was followed by an investigation by an outside auditing. At its conclusion, the city manager delivered a report to the city commission saying he was not prepared to characterize that as fraud.

Factfinder 12 went back to Salina to clarify why and to find out what changes have been made within the city to keep it from happening again.

The city of Salina does not allow its employees to take admin or comp days. Basically, paid time off that isn’t counted as a vacation day. The policy is clearly stated in the city’s personnel manual, but an investigation into that practice found more than $145,000 worth of admin days were taken by chiefs of staff over a seven year period. In a report delivered to city commissioner’s, Salina City Manager Mike Schrage said he isn’t prepared to characterize that as fraud.

In an interview with Factfinder 12, Schrage said he stands by that report.

“When I talked about fraud, I was looking at did we have individual employees doing things outside of what they were told they could do,” Schrage said.

Schrage is referencing a 2007 memo sent to fire department staff by the then chief. It goes against city policy and the city was not informed the chief distributed it to staff. The memo essentially tells employees admin time is allowed as a provision of executive leave. However, BKD, the auditing firm that conducted the investigation into time card fraud allegations, found staff commonly used impermissible admin days prior to that memo even being written.

“I don’t know if the memo was kind of formalizing a practice that was already in place,” Schrage explained. “It really comes down to a recognition that there was a practice implemented and there was reason for an employee to believe there was sufficient authority to, you know, work within the practice as was described.”

BKD, however, noted the memo in the report saying it “had not been the basis for the chief of staffs taking admin time,” and more than one chief of staff “had never heard about” it.

The firm also discovered that when fire department staff heard the city was investigating time sheets, employees began changing how they recorded time off. When asked about that, Schrage replied, “We certainly have identified the past practice is not what we want to do going forward.”

Schrage says the position of the city is that fire department employees simply believed they weren’t doing anything wrong because of the memo and what they’d been told by superiors within the department.

  • Here is what has happened since our investigation concluded:
  • No chiefs of staff were terminated and Schrage says the city will not seek reimbursement.
  • The fire chief was placed on administrative leave and ultimately resigned. The city will not say why.
  • One chief of staff with the department has now retired, another announced their retirement and a new chief has been hired.
  • The city manager recommends chiefs of staff now become hourly instead of salaried employees.
  • A time and attendance system was approved in November to be implemented citywide.

Schrage says he believes the changes will set the city on a proper course going forward.

“I think that will add a lot of structure across the organization,” he said. “Review and openness of communications about reviewing all of our practices is heightened and we’re going to do the right thing and make it clear whatever the decision is so everyone doesn’t find themselves in this situation again.”

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