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Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Employees return to veterans office

By William Kincaid
CELINA - Two county employees are back to work today after a criminal investigation of improper use of vacation time revealed no wrongdoing.
Mercer County Veterans Services Commission members Harry Sunderland, Butch Duerr and Charles Robert Howell unanimously approved a motion during an emergency meeting Wednesday to allow veterans service director Tom Risch and administrative assistant Barb Phillips to return to work. The pair were put on paid administrative leave Friday.
"We are absolutely going to be in the office tomorrow and we will go from there," Risch told the newspaper Wednesday.
Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey said an investigation determined that no crime had been committed in regard to allegations of improperly accounting for leave of absences/sick leave.
The issue at hand is personnel-related, not criminal, and must be dealt with by the veterans service commission, according to Grey and Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney Andy Hinders.
Grey said his department was asked to look into a week of non-office leave by Risch and Phillips in March because the two didn't use any vacation or sick time. Grey would not release the name of the person who brought him the complaint.
Payroll records from the auditor's office indicated that neither Risch nor Phillips used any vacation time for a period dating back to 2004, Grey said, adding the vacation time was paid-out to the two, a policy that no other county office has.
The two ostensibly used comp time for their absence, records of which are kept within the veterans service office, Grey said.
"And that's what we found when we went in," he said.
Grey said the commission members said there is no comp time, while Risch and Phillips said there is.
"That's a personnel issue, not a criminal issue," Grey said.
Sunderland said the situation is tricky. The veterans service commission's policies and procedures do not include anything about comp time but the Mercer County handbook does.
The commission is going to review all of its policies and procedures, he said.
Risch and Philips were removed from the office on Friday afternoon and put on paid administrative leave, action recommended by Grey so his department could remove the needed files from the veterans office.
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