FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – At least two of the temporary employees named in a Fort Lauderdale investigation as having improperly received inflated pay were relatives of existing employees in the same department, city officials confirmed Tuesday.
The two employees -- one the daughter of the chief electrical inspector, the other the nephew of a longtime clerk -- were hired by the Miami-based employment agency Albion Staffing Solutions as part of a contract with the city.
An investigation by city auditor John Herbst found that the city overpaid workers under the contract by more than $188,000, with some entry-level clerks being paid as much $22.50 an hour, when the approved contract called for them to get about half that amount.
Herbst also found that management actively tried to cover up the misconduct from the commission and the public.
"I do want people to be held accountable for their actions," Commissioner Robert McKinzie said. "We’re on top of this matter and we're going to look into it."
City Manager Lee Feldman, who is in charge of reviewing the investigation, claimed Tuesday that he had no knowledge of the family ties of any of the employees involved in the contract.
"That would be something we should looking at," he said. "I'll make sure we look at it. The nepotism laws are pretty clear -- it depends on individual circumstances and that should be looked at."
Yet McKinzie said he was told by the city that the temp workers named in the investigation weren't related to existing staff members.
"I asked that question and I was told they weren't related," he said. "I was told they were not related."
McKinzie refused to disclose which official told him there were no family relations, however, saying, "I reserve that right."
He said the city is working to settle a lawsuit filed by Albion, which alleges it was stiffed $188,000 by the city when the department ran out of budgeted money. Auditor Herbst found that after the money ran out, management contrived to get the money from the following year's budget and also submitted an agenda item to the commission asking for $147,000 for additional staffing, but failed to disclose that it had been overpaying those employees, several of whom remain employed by the city.
Herbst wrote that the misconduct stemmed from "a complete breakdown in tone at the top."
Jenni Morejon, the director of the Department of Sustainable Development, is named in the report, but said she never misled the city or tried to cover up the overpayments.
"I think that's false," she said. "I think we have a very transparent process. All the documentation we provide is with the effort of making sure that facts are presented, and if any issues arise we find solutions appropriate to address them."
Morejon said she didn't learn that the two employees involved in the temp contract were relatives of existing staff until after they were hired. So how did it happen?
"I don't know. I don't," she said. "Those are the things we're trying to go back and unpeel the onion and figure out what decisions were made where, making sure everything was followed, and it if wasn't, deal with that now."
She also said she didn’t know why the employees were overpaid.
"No," she said. "Again, those are all peeling it back and trying to understand where decision points were made and by whom."
"You were involved," Local 10 News investigative reporter Bob Norman said.
"There was involvement from the contractor, the department, multiple departments within the city -- a collaborative effort -- and we're going back to see how those decisions were made," she said.
"So you're not taking responsibility for it," Norman said. "You said it was collaborative."
"As a department head, I will collaborate with all my fellow colleagues in the city under the manager's leadership and we'll determine where decisions made and how we'll deal with it moving forward."
"But how was this misconduct not caught by you?" Norman asked.
"Thank you," Morejon said as she ended the interview.