A couple weeks ago, former city finance director Terri Velasquez made several damning accusations against the city.
Among her claims were that El Pomar Foundation's donation to the city as part of the U.S. Olympic Committee retention deal was misused, and that her former boss, mayoral Chief of Staff Steve Cox, got extra pay and didn't report it until much later. Velasquez says she was fired for being a whistle-blower. Mayor Steve Bach has secured funding to hire an outside independent investigator to look into the claims.
After interviewing those close to the situation, the Independent published a news story ("We can explain," Aug. 4). In short, the story noted that some accusations appear to be true, but not contextualized.
For instance, according to staff, Cox did receive an overpayment. But he wasn't the only employee to be overpaid, his paychecks were erratic at the time, and multiple city workers say he repaid the money as soon as he was notified of the mistake.
At the time that story ran, documents supporting source claims weren't yet available. Now they are. A few facts are of note:
• The city confirms that Cox was overpaid $4,913.15 on June 4, 2010, and that he reimbursed the city on Dec. 3, 2010.
• According to an Aug. 1 e-mail from interim finance director Kara Skinner to Cox, Cox's paychecks at the time of the mistake were erratic. Skinner notes that for the pay period ending May 1, 2010, Cox received a pay increase as he transitioned into his interim city manager position. His pay was $4,565.62, or $1,339.67 more than usual. Two weeks later, his pay was $6,019.33, due to an education reimbursement of $1,564. Two weeks after that, when Cox received the overpayment, his pay included 40 hours of vacation that he had sold back.
The vacation hours were worth $3,509.30 in gross dollars, so Cox was expecting a jump in his pay. However, much was eaten up by taxes. Cox's net that period was $9,869.64, including the overpayment.
• At least six fire department employees received overpayments around the time of the error in Cox's pay, including now-retired former Fire Chief Dan Raider. E-mails reveal widespread confusion over payroll policy and code input for the fire department. (The payroll system for that department has since been changed.)
Some messages also point to tense relations between Cox and Velasquez regarding the payroll problems. In November 2010, Cox messaged Velasquez, "... I am not happy with how this was handled. This should have been caught by Donna [Kaiser] and others when my pension benefit was calculated."
When Velasquez tried to appease Cox in a follow-up message by explaining how the problem occurred and how the issue should be resolved according to policy, Cox messaged back, "Let's talk tomorrow about this. Nobody is suggesting that we don't correct problems. It still boils down to 'garbage in, garbage out.' See you tomorrow." Read more of the e-mails here.
• Velasquez claimed in her press release that her last performance review from Cox was favorable. Upon checking, the Independent found that, indeed, it was positive. But that review was from 2008. And while Cox gives Velasquez the highest score of "3" on many points, on others he scores her a "2," or just adequate.
The city also provided the Indy a May 4 letter from then-Mayor Lionel Rivera to El Pomar, stating all its funds were used correctly. No thorough accounting was given.
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