In wake of probe, Walla Walla County seeks better accounts of work hours

County commissioners are crafting a policy after a state audit of the Sheriff’s Office.

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WALLA WALLA — Walla Walla County commissioners are considering a policy to track paid leave for managers following a state investigation last year into a suspected loss of public funds at the Sheriff’s Office.

The Washington State Auditor’s Office investigation ultimately concluded there was no wrongdoing because the county has no policy governing when administrative employees use vacation hours, leaving Sheriff John Turner with sole “discretion” over the matter for his department.

Turner's responses in full

A document containing the full text of Walla Walla County Sheriff John Turner's responses to U-B questions regarding the state Auditor's Office investigation can be found here.

Investigators, however, did raise concerns that the Sheriff’s Office was not tracking hours administrative employees were at work.

“... (I)f they are not tracking time, how does anyone know how much extra time they are entitled to take off …?” an auditor stated in investigation notes obtained by the Union-Bulletin.

County commissioners held a July 15 work session to discuss developing guidelines to address the matter.

“It is important that we have a tracking mechanism,” Commissioner Perry Dozier said following the work session. “We need open communications with other elected officials, too, so everybody is on the same page.”

The Auditor’s Investigation

According to commissioners Greg Tompkins and Dozier, a “concerned constituent” raised the concerns about Sheriff’s Office administrators not using vacation time during absences from work.

As required by state law, commissioners reported the concerns to the Auditor’s Office, which began an investigation in July 2012.

The office issued a final letter Dec. 18 stating the employees who were under investigation are “exempt” under the Fair Labor Standards Act, meaning they have no set schedule for when they are required to work.

“We found the County’s policy does not describe when exempt employees should use vacation time when they are not at work,” wrote Sarah Walker, fraud manager for the Auditor’s Office. “Based on the exclusion from the Fair Labor Standards Act and County’s policy not addressing exempt employees’ use of vacation, the Sheriff has the discretion and the responsibility to oversee the work of these employees.”

In a phone interview in June, Walker told the Union-Bulletin the Auditor’s Office investigation was limited to an examination of three command staff member’s security key data, computer records and payroll sheets for the month of June 2012.

In spite of the limited scope of the investigation, Zac Wilson, an investigator with the Auditor’s Office, raised concerns about how the Sheriff’s Office tracks hours for exempt employees.

In investigation notes from August 2012 Walker wrote:

“(Sheriff John Turner) did point out to Zac that the employees in question are exempt employees, so they are not required to keep track of time; Zac is going to be asking for a clarification, since if they are not tracking time, how does anyone know how much extra time they are entitled to take off for the extra hours worked?”

The U-B Investigation

In April the Union-Bulletin requested records that included work documents related to the Auditor’s Office investigation. The documents released include key card data, computer access data and payroll sheets for January through July of 2012.

Records of the security key use and computer use for the three command employees show similar patterns of use, with one exception: the data for Undersheriff Edward Freyer show no activity for several weeks-long periods during those seven months.

The periods include two weeks during the end of February and beginning of March, two weeks in June and nearly the entire month of July. Freyer, who annually accrues 96 hours of vacation a year, claimed 24 hours during that period.

In response to the Union-Bulletin’s records request, Turner wrote a guest column in May that the newspaper published in its opinion pages, weeks before the requested documents were released to the newspaper.

The column referenced the Auditor’s Office final letter, and spoke highly of Freyer’s work for the county.

“Per our county’s policy manual, an FLSA exempt employee ‘is compensated in relationship to the overall level of expected job performance over a period of time, and not according to the number of hours that are worked,’” Turner wrote.

He added that “the vast majority of the time it averages out to be far greater than 40 hours per week without any additional compensation.”

Turner also responded to U-B questions with a hand-delivered packet of information including policy manuals, a letter asking for complete disclosure of his written response and several letters of praise for Freyer by other area law enforcement officials.

“Just because our building’s key card or computer system shows no access, that in no way means that the Undersheriff was not working,” Turner wrote. “Eddie, due to his tenure, is more ‘old school’ in nature; he prefers reading paper over a computer screen, and telephone and face to face conversations over e-mail.”

However, Tom Cooper and Sgt. Brad Ansorge of the Sheriff’s Office confirmed the key card and computer data correspond with their observations that Freyer would take regular, weeks-long absences to work as a security contractor or consultant, sometimes overseas.

“(Freyer) was gone two weeks after he was there a month,” Ansorge said.

Cooper and Ansorge both said Freyer has spoken openly in the office about working overseas.

Additional sources within the Sheriff’s Office, who would not go on record for this story, confirmed that Freyer talked openly about his work outside the department.

Ansorge has been a Sheriff’s Office deputy for 25 years. Cooper is a 24-year veteran, but was removed from the duty roster in April following a knee injury that had placed him on “light duty” status since December 2012.

Cooper has also announced he plans to run for sheriff in the 2014 election.

Turner hired Freyer, a retired FBI agent, as his undersheriff after Turner won the 2010 election. As of July 2012 Freyer’s salary was $6,507 a month.

Freyer and Turner met in Iraq in 2008 while employed by the Department of Defense as law enforcement professionals in counterterrorism activities.

Freyer has refused to comment to the U-B for this report.

“I have nothing to say to you,” Freyer said over the phone in late June. “If I thought you were going to give anyone a fair shake at the Sheriff’s Office, I would talk to you. But I’m not going to do that.”

Turner acknowledged in his May column in the U-B that he knew there had been some discontent within the Sheriff’s Office about command staff work schedules.

“I knew there have been grumblings and misconceptions about how differently I run my command staff in order to accomplish our mission versus previous administrations,” Turner wrote.

Cooper, a vocal critic of Turner since the 2010 election, noted that under previous Sheriff Mike Humphreys, hour tracking applied to everyone in the department.

Humphreys, in a brief phone interview, confirmed that exempt as well as non-exempt staff tracked their hours the same way. He also said his employees were allowed to work outside the Sheriff’s Office when they were off duty, with the understanding that it would not interfere with their regular work schedule.

Ansorge said, “It’s quite apparent (Turner) eliminated the checks and balances for his command staff.”

In Turner’s response to U-B questions about Freyer working outside the Sheriff’s Office, he wrote that “off-duty work has never interfered with any Sheriff’s Office employee’s official capacities, nor has it negatively impacted work product or service to our county.”

Turner, in a phone converstation with the U-B earlier this year, said he also spoke with Mitch Barker, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, in response to concerns about command staff schedules. He said Barker confirmed to him the Walla Walla Sheriff’s Office operates according to “best practices.”

In a phone interview with the U-B, Barker confirmed he spoke with Turner about flexibility in command staff schedules in general, but said Turner did not ask about allowing an employee to be absent for weeks at a time while still drawing a full paycheck.

County Reactions

Walla Walla County Commissioner Jim Johnson confirmed the board’s policy discussions were prompted by the Auditor’s Office investigation and reports that Sheriff’s Office administrators were not reporting extended absences as vacation time.

“I think that whole situation brought (the policy issue) to the forefront,” he said.

Tompkins, prior to the commissioners’ June 15 work session, said, “We need to look at all our policies now.”

During the work session Lucy Schwallie, county personnel and risk manager, told commissioners she compared Walla Walla County with 12 other Washington counties regarding policies covering exempt-employee use of paid leave.

She said four of the counties that responded had no policy, similar to Walla Walla County. The other eight counties had policies that included different types of requirements for reporting leave time, and would necessarily have some mechanism for tracking employee hours.

Schwallie also said some counties have provisions for rewarding an exempt employee who works an excessive amount above a standard work week, while others include provisions for docking the salary of exempt employees who take too much leave.

“This is a tricky area,” Schwallie said. “Any change in policy will have to be run by the attorneys.”

Following the work session, Johnson said the county will likely try to craft a policy that clarifies the use of leave time by exempt employees.

“We’ll try to come up with a policy that’s a little more clearly laid out,” he said. “I think it would be good to have that codified a little bit.”

Luke Hegdal can be reached at lukehegdal@wwub.com or 526-8326.


Fellow law enforcers laud Freyer's work in county

Walla Walla County Sheriff John Turner, responding to Union-Bulletin questions about Undersheriff Edward Freyer’s work schedule, has said repeatedly that Freyer is a valuable, hard-working member of the Sheriff’s Office.

Freyer’s work schedule came under scrutiny following an investigation by the Washington State Auditor’s Office into suspected loss of funds due to concerns whether management level employees were not reporting extended absences as vacation time.

In a follow up investigation by the U-B, staff members at the Sheriff’s Office reported that the Freyer is gone from the Sheriff’s Office while he works as a security consultant or contractor, sometimes for weeks at a time.

Turner responded to the Union-Bulletin questions with a packet of information that included high praise for Freyer.

“Many examples of Eddie’s work ethic come to mind,” Turner wrote. “His professional manner of fulfilling his Undersheriff duties, his efforts to keep our Balloon Stampede and County Fair free of crime and tragedy, his work with SAR, SWAT, CART ....”

Turner acknowledged that Freyer has a flexible schedule, but stated, “... (Forty) hours per week or 2,080 possible regular work hours per year are only a benchmark ... I know that Undersheriff Freyer has worked many hundreds of hours over 2,080 hours each year.”

Turner also solicited letters from other area law enforcement officials, including a letter from Walla Walla Police Chief Scott Bieber.

Bieber agreed to an interview with the U-B at his office June 24. He said he could speak only to the cooperative work Freyer had done with the Walla Walla Police Department, and not Freyer’s schedule at the Sheriff’s Office specifically.

“There’s a considerable amount of work Eddie does for us,” Bieber said. “The work’s getting done, and it’s valuable work to the community.”

Freyer leads both SWAT and Search and Rescue and has worked long hours for both, Bieber said. Bieber also mentioned Freyer’s work with the Child Abduction and Response Team.

“When we need him, in the 15 months I’ve been here, he’s been available,” Bieber said.

Comments

wwguy7 1 year, 3 months ago

Wow Turner. I know that Humphries was not perfect, but you are making him look like a Saint! Time to run the big-time, LAPD gang hunter out of town. Hopefully his goons follow him!

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ImJustSayin 1 year, 3 months ago

The UB and Hegdal in particular should be ashamed of this pathetic and obvious hatchet job. When the State Auditor states there was no wrong doing....that's it...end of story!

But the UB has such a grind to ax with the Sheriff's Office that they'll print innuendos in hopes of casting doubt. Everyone knows who the "concerned constituent" is. His beef with Turner is not a secret. Quoting Cooper is a joke since he's running for Sheriff and of course won't go on record with positive things to say.

Maybe the UB should for once.....print something positive about the Sheriff's Office. Keep Turner out of the story, there are plenty of other great employees working there doing excellent work for the community.

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barracuda 1 year, 3 months ago

RE: When the State Auditor states there was no wrong doing....that's it...end of story!

No not the end of story.... Re-read the next paragraph...

"Investigators, however, did raise concerns that the Sheriff’s Office was not tracking hours administrative employees were at work."

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ImJustSayin 1 year, 3 months ago

So what? Do you really think the taxpayers are being cheated on hours worked? If you want tracking, then they should start putting in for over time hours. Then all hell would break loose for blowing up the budget. The fact they don't put in for OT is something I'm sure the citizens appreciate. If only the UB did......

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rainman_MT 1 year, 3 months ago

I don't know what ever happened to the UB or Hegdal that created such a bias against the Sherriff's Department. You never see any in depth coverage on the positive changes and efforts being made. The Community involvement with the search and rescue teams, SWAT or especially the multi-county program with the Child Abduction and Response team. Countless hours of department personnel and volunteers go into many programs like this with very little coverage and never any positive coverage. I am very thankful for the team at our Sheriff's department and get really tired of the biased reporting.

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barracuda 1 year, 3 months ago

Can anyone set the record straight as to whether or not the Sheriff, Under-Sheriff, and Chief Operations Deputy are Washington State certified yet? One of the rumors going around...... These people who hold those positions, are not yet Wa. St. Certified. And, if they are not, how long from date of hire do they have to achieve this certification(s).

Any one know?

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barracuda 1 year, 3 months ago

Thanks. Any one know if they are yet certified?

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aurora 1 year, 3 months ago

No, but I'll bet the Criminal Justice Training Commission can answer that question. 206.835.7300

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aurora 1 year, 3 months ago

Like in all other phases of life, the bad make it 'bad' for the good! It's pathetic that our elected officials need 'policies' in place to do what is right or what is expected without the need for a policy! Management positions carry the burden of 'getting the job done' no matter how many hours it takes ~ that comes with the territory. It is understood in the private sector and it should be understood in the public sector as well. When you apply for the job, you know that up front!

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cropcircles 1 year, 3 months ago

My questions to the UB

1) It seems like a one sided story with much too emphasis on Freyer. Was he the only administrative employee to not use vacation leave when he was allegedly on vacation?

2) Connected to question 1: If Freyer was the only admin employee to not use vacation leave, is that because he was the only admin to not work beyond the 40 hours? I think we all know that can't be true. But if it were true, then why didn't the story indicate the use of the other admin's use of leave?

3) If Turner is correct in that Freyer works beyond the 2080 hours, then verify it.

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downhillracer 1 year, 3 months ago

We are indeed fortunate to have Sheriff Turner in our community with an extraordinary skill-set. I lived in LA for 30 years and am slightly familiar with what his experience brings to the table.

To suggest he is a "big-time, LAPD gang hunter" is not only offensive and myopic, it does not take into consideration the roots he has in this Valley, or his commitment to ensuring as safe of a community as is possible.

I suspect this is an extension of the narrow-mindedness pervasive in the hillbilly "good ol' boy's network", which the majority of the population is glad to see disappear.

Now, if we could only bring back Wm. Asbury as the Editor of the U-B, we might see some real reporting.

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wwguy7 1 year, 3 months ago

He is the one who touted his history as a Gang Detective in LA. Not me. I don't doubt his commitment to keeping our community safe, but think the guy is a crook. Big difference there.

Who are you calling hillbilly? Say that to some generations old WW citizens, and you are probably going to catch a right hook in the jaw.

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downhillracer 1 year, 3 months ago

Whatever. No different than your reference to "goons". BTW, I'm 5th generation. If the shoe fits.. I might add reaching Detective-rank in the prestigious LAPD CRASH or Metro division is highly respectable.

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wwguy7 1 year, 3 months ago

It's people like you and John Turner who are going to forever change Walla Walla, not for the better. You act like some big shot from Seattle. It's those atttitudes that are going to ruin our quaint little town.

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downhillracer 1 year, 3 months ago

No, I act like a native who has actually experienced life beyond this "quaint" little town, and is commetted to progress, which includes change. Thoughtful, inclusive and reasoned change. Welcome to tomorrow, it's here already.

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namvet60 1 year, 3 months ago

Does your comment mean it's tomorrow?

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Jo99362 1 year, 3 months ago

If people have issues with Turner, why don't they go to the many roundtable discussions he has??? Have an actual conversation with him and ask questions without a hidden agenda. He's been forthcoming when I asked why they cannot use drug sniffing dogs at Wa-Hi, he's been honest that sometimes deputies are putting their lives at risk if they are not able to have radio contact, such as pulling people over, as well as having 24/7 patrol that has not happened in a few years. Exempt employees get hosed simply because there is always more work to do but the public doesn't care if you need sleep or if you have a family.

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cropcircles 1 year, 3 months ago

I've attended the roundtables. These are just opportunities where Turner gets to bloviate about very little or it's just the same mantra over and over again. We are so tired of Turner and his spin on everything. We are tired of his need to spend spend and spend some more. Yes the uniforms are nice but did you need the dress uniforms too? That was thousands of dollars that wasn't needed. One dog okay, but two? The cost of training and overtime for these 2 deputies are extremely costly. And 3 command staff plus office appointees. That's over 100k in additional salary that Humphreys didn't ask for. The 24/7 coverage is also nice, even sounds good but listen to the traffic at the wee hours of the morning. It's dead. Walla Walla is a quiet town. The previous admin took care to place deputies in all the outlying areas so that response time, when needed, was there. There has been no incident in which someone lost a life or was injured in anyway due to the county not having coverage between 2 and 5 am on some nights. (If there were, Turner would have made sure we'd have heard about it by now) And that 24/7 coverage is costly, expecially when deputies aare on vacation and overtime is needed to cover the shift.

Many of us in our own families realize the need for budgeting and saving for those "nice to haves" Turner doesn't get that concept. He's an only child who's always had what he wanted. He has no children and a house paid for by his mother's trust fund. He just doesn't live in reality.

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ImJustSayin 1 year, 3 months ago

What are you talking about? The prior Sheriff had a Undersheriff (thief), Captain and Jail Commander. Same as now. What current appointees are you referring to? Shanda Zessin? She takes the place of Lora White.

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cropcircles 1 year, 3 months ago

I agree with Barracuda - salaries are significantly higher and yes the more qualified the more $ you deserve. However, there are new office staff up front and Freyer has a personal asst named Abbey. But the beef is at the top with JT and the commissioners for allowing the budget to increase by even one penny.

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barracuda 1 year, 3 months ago

The previous admins. used people already on staff to fill those positions. The admin. brought people in from the outside... means the previous staff returned to their civil-service positions, and new more costlier staff is an additional pay out. White and Romine are still with the dept. Also.. With all of the back patting I want to know why the bike patrols were eliminated? I can only assume the leasing of the bikes were cost prohibitive. But weren't they leased from Harley for a very nominal amount?

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ImJustSayin 1 year, 3 months ago

There have been deputies that have left the department and only one replaced. Seems it's all evened out. The salary paid to current staff is a different story. But as they say, you get what you pay for. I would rather have a former FBI agent with the utmost integrity as Undersheriff versus a thief.

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barracuda 1 year, 3 months ago

Imjustsayin..... RE: The thief comment(s).... In your opinion, how can Humphries be faulted for and held accountable for the Lepiane problems? All he did was contact an neutral outside agency to look into some possible problems that was caused by a staff member! RE: Under-Sheriff Freyer. Other than the fact (rumor has it... I hope someone can please verify) that he is not certified in Washington State, But..... I don't know the man, (other than a hand shake introduction)and therefore I don't have a problem, He may be a great guy, doing a great job....My concerns lie above him.

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ImJustSayin 1 year, 3 months ago

Was Lepiane certified? Doubt it. Move on

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barracuda 1 year, 3 months ago

No, you are correct, but, Lepiane didn't have to be certified... While the law requires someone to be certified in the administration, it was White that was in charge of the Patrol Division..... As well as Humphries was certified. If the rumors are true, (?? can anybody out there confirm this??) There is no one in the Current Admin. staff who is in charge of the patrol division that is certified! The law is very clear... The WA.ST. LAWS read...."Every full-time peace officer in Washington state, including the Washington State Patrol, and Fish and Wildlife officers regardless of rank. Reserve Officers do not need to be certified."

Read the above links.......

Sorry, I see no need to move on yet! We deserve to know about our S.O.

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barracuda 1 year, 3 months ago

Imjustsayin...... Again, I asked a question... Re: Why is everyone is acting like Lepiane's problem is Humphries fault? She was working for the S.O. many years before Humphries became the Sheriff. Again, Why is this so?

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delongs1 1 year, 3 months ago

I prefer to focus on facts. The facts point to no wrong doing, period.

If no policy is in place now, it means it hasn't been in place for many, many years. In general, it seems Mr. Hegdal has no information of substance that has to do with the primary role of the Sheriffs Department - protecting our citizens and property.

Thus, he spends his time focusing on non-issues. He clearly has ulterior motives. Is he related to the previous administration somehow? I suspect he would be the first to call for help if he needed protection from the "bad guys". Rest assured, there are many bad guys out there. Law enforcement is an incredibly difficult career. I respect these hard working people and thank Mr. Turner for advancing this organization on a number of fronts.

Having Mr. Hegdal continually throw rocks from the sidelines is cowardly and pointless. Be part of the solution or get out the way.

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