Three Pinal County employees, including assistant County manager of development services Greg Stanley and public works director A.J. Blaha, were placed on paid administrative leave last Wednesday by County manager Fritz Behring after an outside investigation revealed a number of violations had occurred on Blaha and Stanley’s watch.
Tina Lawson, business manager of the public works department, was the third employee placed on administrative leave.
Blaha tendered his retirement, while Stanley was returned to his position as of Friday. Lawson – a merit-protected employee – remained on administrative leave as of Monday afternoon.
An allegation of employee misconduct on the part of Lawson, in addition to a follow-up complaint about possible corruption and a cover-up by Stanley and Blaha, led to Behring’s decision to have a third-party investigation of public works, which falls under the County’s development services department. An investigation was completed by Synergy Seven, Inc., a Phoenix company that specializes in human resource services.
Synergy Seven’s report paints the picture of a public works department completely out of control with unproductive employees, corrupt management, abuse of County resources, improper hiring practices, phone calls going unanswered, kids running around the office, falsification of time sheets and much more.
One County employee said the department was “like ‘Animal House’ over there.”
While the report says Lawson is to blame for much of what happened within the department, ultimate responsibility was placed on Blaha, Lawson’s direct supervisor, and Stanley for allowing the behavior to continue without doing anything to stop it.
Blaha, the report states, knew about some of Lawson’s unethical behavior, while Stanley – who was not accused of inappropriate or corrupt behavior – was characterized as a “hands off” manager who was “inclined to look the other way and not hold staff accountable.”
The crux of the investigation focused on numerous allegations of misconduct against Lawson, who in interviews with a Synergy Seven investigator, admitted to much of the improper behavior.
Of the many allegations against her, the investigation found Lawson guilty of abuse/theft of County resources, dereliction of duty/conflict of interest and outside employment on County time, instructing a subordinate to lie for her, breach of confidentiality and security procedures, cronyism and violation of IT policies.
Some of Lawson’s behavior documented in the report includes using her County computer for non-work related purposes, creating a position to hire her daughter’s boyfriend, going on vacation while lying about being on “County business,” working for other businesses and receiving compensation while on County time and storing “protected” County information on external hard drives.
“Lawson confirmed using County equipment for printing, completion of daughter’s homework, doing work for family business and filing taxes,” the report states.
Lawson also directed her daughter, Julia Gomez, to delete personal pictures and other “incriminating” files from her computer while Lawson was out of state. Gomez gained access to the County building through her boyfriend, who was a temporary employee hired by Lawson.
A reorganization of the public works department led Blaha to send an email to Lawson on Dec. 28, 2012, which instructed her to terminate outside temporary employee services indefinitely. Lawson released a temporary employee Feb. 2, but through a temp agency, hired her daughter’s boyfriend, DeAnte Miller, on Feb. 21.
The report states Lawson told him well in advance of his hiring that she would attempt to get him a job as a temp in her department. The temp agency told Lawson about Miller’s criminal theft history, but she still hired him without consulting human resources, and Blaha told investigators he never gave Lawson formal approval for the hire.
As part of Miller’s job duties, he had access to “confidential” County information and financial records. The investigation found Stanley and Blaha were both aware of Miller’s presence in the office but failed to ask any questions, which allowed his employment to continue.
Lawson “clearly acted outside of the scope of her position and authority” when hiring Miller, which created potential liability for the County, according to the report.
Blaha was also implicated in the report regarding cronyism. Several former City of Casa Grande employees have been hired by Blaha, who worked for that city from 1994-2006.
Stanley also worked for the City of Casa Grande.
“It was asserted that Blaha hires and promotes (and Stanley supports and approves these decisions) individuals who are described as under-qualified friends,” the report states. “It is further described that some of these ‘friends’ are not productive, perform little work and are not held accountable.”
Sometimes hiring these friends has resulted in other people losing their jobs.
“Blaha and Stanley have conducted reorganization that created or redefined positions and resulted in elimination of current positions/incumbents,” the report said.
The investigation concluded there were “egregious breaches of policy, less than ethical practice” and “inadequate supervision” in public works administrative services.
It claims the culture of cronyism and “close relationships” led to disregard for authority, co-workers turning their heads to misconduct by employees and the acceptance of this work environment by Blaha and Stanley – actions which “scarred” the reputation of the public works department.