Carlton County addresses charges of employee theftA 29-year employee of Carlton County’s building and maintenance department lodged a verbal complaint this week with the Carlton County Board about alleged time-stealing and theft by employees.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
A 29-year employee of Carlton County’s building and maintenance department lodged a verbal complaint this week with the Carlton County Board about alleged time-stealing and theft by employees.
Rich Bryant said there have been ongoing issues with a certain county employee or employees in his department, which he claimed also have included “harassment, a hostile work environment, alcoholism on the job and retaliation for challenging these issues over the years.”
Bryant explained he was coming to the board for direction after running into a “stumbling block” in getting the issues addressed by Carlton County Coordinator Dennis Genereau.
“I started by going to Dennis Genereau when he first came on the job a year ago,” Bryant said, “telling him there were ongoing issues within the building maintenance department that have raised red flag after red flag, but so far nothing has been done.”
Bryant said that certain maintenance employees “come and go as they please,” and he suggested they aren’t spending the amount of time on the job that they record on their time sheets.
“Stealing of time is an issue very concerning to me,” Genereau said. “Mr. Bryant came to me on my first day on the job with concerns that certain tasks within his department weren’t being done at the level they should be. I felt I needed to get the lay of the land first before any changes were made.”
Genereau said that not long after he started as county coordinator, he learned there was no formal policy guidance for the county’s custodial staff, and there have been no department meetings for “as long as anyone can remember.”
Genereau said a building and maintenance department meeting was held Sept. 18, and he plans to make that a monthly event to make certain employees know the goals and mission of the department. He also said a process has been set up with the county’s information technology director to better track time worked, particularly for employees who work early mornings, nights or weekends when supervisors are not on the job.
“Building and maintenance employees work in many different locations and at all different times,” Genereau said. “With the new system, they must now sign in and out on a time sheet … where a camera is present.”
On the issue of alleged employee theft, Genereau said he’s discovered that there seemed to be an unspoken understanding within the building and maintenance department about borrowing county-owned tools and equipment.
“At least some seemed to believe that it’s OK to borrow tools and equipment belonging to the county as long as they bring them back,” Genereau said. “Since this may have resulted in some theft, there is a new policy in place explicitly prohibiting this practice.”
In response to Bryant’s appeal for the board to further intervene in these matters, board Chairman Ted Pihlman said personnel issues are not typically a board function and suggested Bryant would be better served by taking the grievances to his union. Union steward Barb Bassa, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, disagreed.
“This is a case of [union] member versus member,” Bassa said, “and that makes it a county issue.”
She said that the matter of time theft has been “a bad problem” in certain county buildings, adding that she has done her own investigation, checking to see if the night staff was on the job at various points during the evening.
“The employees were often nowhere to be seen,” Bassa said. “Not at 7:30, or 8:30, though they were supposed to work until 11 p.m. I checked the time sheets and many times they wrote down they had worked a 7½-hour work day.”
Carlton County Attorney Thom Pertler said time issues are a personnel matter but employee theft can be a personnel matter and a criminal issue. He said both he and Sheriff Kelly Lake have referred the allegations of employee theft to counterparts in other counties to avoid any conflicts of interest.
“Time-stealing and employee theft should not be tolerated — period,” Pihlman said.