Jan. 21--Pierce Transit's public safety chief was put on paid leave two months ago after an internal audit cited problems with timekeeping and payments to a pair of off-duty Tacoma police officers who reported to him, according to documents obtained by The News Tribune.
Rod Baker was placed on leave by Pierce Transit Chief Executive Officer Lynne Griffith while an outside investigator examines "various payment issues to some of our outsourced officers." Those contracted Tacoma and Lakewood police officers help oversee transit officers under Baker.
The draft internal audit suggests command officers were padding their hours, though their attorney disputes it. The audit of a two-week pay period in September cited:
--Hours reported as worked by Tacoma and Lakewood police officers were significantly higher than the hours scheduled by Pierce Transit.
--Timecards were not reviewed by Baker or his designee. A signature stamp was used for the signature of the chief and for the commander from Tacoma police.
--Activity reports for the two Tacoma police officers did not match the hours reported and paid on their timecards.
--One Tacoma officer reported 30 hours of work for interviewing, writing a follow-up report and carrying out a background check on one employee. "The 30 hours reported seem excessive," Pierce Transit assistant finance manager Liz Passmore wrote.
An email on Nov. 19 from Passmore, who conducted the audit, indicates the problems had been resolved. That same day, Griffith placed Baker on leave, according to her memo released through a public records request.
Griffith said in her memo that Baker's leave was not done for disciplinary reasons.
"Your absence during this process helps to protect you and the Agency from any claims of impropriety during the investigation process," she wrote.
Deputy Chief Bill Cassio, a Pierce County Sheriff's Department employee, is the interim public safety chief.
Baker's attorney told a reporter recently that Baker won't comment because Pierce Transit has told him not to.
"My client was directed not to discuss the matter while the investigation was pending," said Mitchell Riese, Baker's lawyer.
The News Tribune first reported Dec. 26 on Baker's leave and the investigation, though details about both were vague at the time.
Questions to Pierce Transit have been referred to Transit Board chairwoman and Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, who has repeatedly refused to comment because the investigation is ongoing.
Pierce Transit employs 41 off-duty contract officers from Tacoma police and 50 from Lakewood police, said agency spokeswoman Carol Mitchell. In addition, it employs 12 full-time deputies with the Pierce County Sheriff's Department as transit police, Mitchell said.
Records obtained by The News Tribune show Pierce Transit audited its payroll for six off-duty contract officers -- four from Tacoma police and two from Lakewood police. The draft version of the audit was critical of Tacoma police Lt. Mark Feddersen and officer James Smith; they were commander and assistant commander, respectively, under Baker.
Feddersen and Smith monitor other off-duty officers from Tacoma's police force who help with transit security. Feddersen and Smith's duties include creating schedules, handling payroll and investigating complaints.
The audit also examined but was not critical by name of Lakewood police Sgt. Anders Estes, the Pierce Transit commander for off-duty Lakewood police.
Joan Mell, attorney for Feddersen, Smith and Estes, said the three officers haven't done anything wrong and didn't pad their hours.
They were paid only for the hours they worked, Mell said.
She said the audit miscalculated the hours Feddersen and Smith entered on reports.
"It's a miscommunication," Mell said.
According to Passmore's audit memo on Oct. 21, Feddersen and Smith each reported between 40 and 75 hours during each two-week pay period in 2013 for Pierce Transit, in addition to their full-time work for Tacoma police.