A Channel 4 I-Team investigation has launched a city audit and the proposed payback of taxpayer dollars from city officials in the town of Kingston Springs.
While city officials deny any attempt to cheat the system, there are serious questions about alleged double dipping from three city employees, including the fire/police chief and the public works director.
The Channel 4 I-Team began investigating when we saw Eugene Ivey, the police chief and fire chief in Kingston Springs, running his mowing business just after 3 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 5.
Kingston Springs City Manager Laurie Cooper confirmed that Ivey "roughly" works until 5 p.m. on Thursdays.
So why is Ivey out mowing when taxpayers pay him to be in the office?
"I don't have anything to say on camera," Ivey said when Channel 4 News caught up with him outside of a training.
And Ivey isn't alone mowing. We also saw Kingston Springs' Public Works Director Clint Bigger mowing too. On that Thursday, Bigger left his office about 3 p.m. to get on the road to mow.
"There's nothing wrong with having a second job. But when you're doing your second job when you're supposed to be doing you're first, that's calls for getting fired," said taxpayer watchdog Justin Owen.
But the Channel 4 I-Team found the mowing isn't the only way Ivey and Biggers make extra money when many of their peers in other similar-sized cities are in the office.
The Channel 4 I-Team obtained years of payroll records, salary records and incident reports that raise the question how Ivey, Biggers and a Kingston Springs public safety officer are getting paid by taxpayers twice on the same day and time.
"This is a pure case of double dipping," Owen said.
The other way Ivey, Biggers and Jeremy Vaughan, a Kingston Springs public safety officer and captain in the volunteer fire department, are making money while already on one taxpayer-funded job has to do with an incentive program.
All three city employees are also volunteer firefighters, and when volunteer firefighters respond to an emergency, they get points. At the end of the year, those points translate to cash.
But the city has one firm rule: If you're a salaried city employee, you cannot get those incentive points if you respond, or are on standby, while you're already at your job.
To avoid double dipping, city employees cannot be paid twice for responding to one call. That would be like using tax dollars to pay a firefighter one salary to fight a fire and then pay him again if he responds to that same fire.
But the Channel 4 I-Team found Ivey, Biggers and Vaughan all getting incentive pay from taxpayers when they were already on jobs also funded by tax dollars.
"It is clear that this program is not only ripe for abuse, but there are a lot of people taking advantage of it for a long time," Owen said.
The Channel 4 I-Team reviewed incentive pay records from 2011 and 2012 and found more than 130 times Ivey got incentive points while he was already on duty.
On Monday, Oct. 10, 2011, an incident report shows there was a call for a structure fire at 9:24 a.m. Ivey was already on duty for his full-time job as police/fire chief.
But the incident report shows he got an incentive point for being on standby as if he wasn't working and came in on his own time.
On Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2012, a call went out that wires were burning at 11:11 a.m. Ivey was already on duty, but again, he got an incentive point for being on standby.
According to the incident forms, in many of the cases, Ivey never went out on the calls, he was just on standby.
Payroll records show Ivey made the most money off incentive points every year.
The Channel 4 I-Team asked Ivey about the questions of double dipping, but he didn't respond and closed the door of his truck.
The no double dipping rule applies to Biggers as well because he is the public works director and a volunteer firefighter.
But the Channel 4 I-Team found case after case of Biggers being in the office while getting incentive points for being on standby, as if he wasn't in the office.
The no dipping rule also applies for Vaughan, who is also a captain in the volunteer fire department. Vaughan also compiles all of the incentive points for volunteers to get cash.
But the Channel 4 I-Team found Vaughan getting incentive points for calls while he was already on duty.
Ivey, Biggers nor Vaughan would respond to our questions on camera. Cooper, their boss, also would not answer questions on camera.
However, Ivey, Vaughan and Cooper did email responses.
"I am not involved in the counting of the calls for the Incentive Plan," Ivey emailed.
"I can assure you that no one has tried to ‘cheat the system,'" Vaughan emailed.
Cooper emailed, "There is no evidence of intent to 'cheat' the system - but - the purpose of incentive points is a cumbersome process and easily subject to human error."
As for the mowing while he was supposed to be on duty, Ivey wrote that he doesn't mow on city time.
Cooper said that Biggers roughly works until 3 every afternoon, but we saw him driving at about 3 p.m. to go mow. We also checked with public works directors in six towns of similar sizes and they all work until 3:30 or 4 p.m.
Cooper wrote the city approves of Biggers and Ivey "moonlighting during mowing season."
"In the private sector, you'd probably get fired for that," Owen said.
But don't think that because Cooper didn't talk to us on camera that she didn't take our finding seriously.
As soon as we shared our findings with her and the other department heads in the town, an internal audit was launched.
Tuesday on Channel 4 News at 6:00, you will see why Cooper is now recommending all city employees be banned from the incentive program and that some of the money may need to be paid back.
Also, the Channel 4 I-Team will reveal more questions about this incentive program, including why there are not initials on incident reports, and how employees are signing for other employees on these forms.
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