COLUMBUS, IN — Following an audit of the City of Columbus police department, state auditors have asked two police officers to reimburse taxpayers $9,013.89.
The Indiana State Board of Accounts conducted a special investigation into the City of Columbus for the period of January 1, 2013 to August 31, 2018.
Ronald May and Dan Meister performed part-time security guard services for Columbus Regional Hospital.
Auditors found the officers reported time worked and received compensation from the city for the same time period they were working and getting paid at Columbus Regional Hospital.
The State Board of Accounts found May received $2,294.66, and Meister received $1,501.48 in compensation from the city while working at Columbus Regional Hospital.
Auditors asked May and Meister to reimburse taxpayers the amounts, as well as $2,608.88 each for special investigation costs, racked up by the State Board of Accounts.
Call 6 Investigates reported in January that Indiana State Police had launched a criminal investigation into the matter, but no charges have been filed.
Special prosecutor Jeff Chalfant is reviewing the case and has not yet decided on whether May and Meister will face criminal charges.
The audit criticized the city for not setting internal controls on overtime reporting of its employees and noted the department didn't have a time clock. Time cards were handwritten and maintained on a computer spreadsheet.
In its written response to SBOA, city attorney Alan Whitted said the city had implemented a new electronic time reporting system to establish checks and balances.
Whitted also said May and Meister took advantage of the department's time management system.
"The actions by these two individuals were contrary to the core values of the department, and are not indicative of the honesty and integrity of the department's other employees," read the city attorney's response. "Unfortunately, two supervisors took advantage of the position to which they were entrusted. When this was discovered, the police department's administration took swift action to hold the employees accountable for their actions."
Both supervisors were removed from their supervisory roles and from their ability to act as law enforcement officers, Whitted said.
Following an internal investigation, officer May announced on November 29 he would retire.
Meister was reassigned to non-law enforcement duties within the agency.
Meister, a 22-year veteran, was previously a lieutenant and was assigned a patrol officer position.
An attorney for the officers said the auditor's conclusion is "misplaced."
The Columbus Police Department did not maintain a time clock and handwritten time cards were generated indicating the time officers were scheduled to work, said attorney Edward Merchant in his response to SBOA.
CPD officers were permitted to "flex" their time by coming in an hour early and leaving an hour early, for example, said Merchant.
"It was common for both May and Meister to flex their time on days they were scheduled to work at the Columbus Regional Hospital," wrote Merchant. "As a result of flex time, the time stated on the officers' time cards did not always reflect the actual time worked by the officers. The time cards reflect the hours the officers were scheduled to work, not the hours the officers actually worked."
RTV6 reported in January that Indiana State Police was investigating allegations of ghost employment and official misconduct within the Columbus Police Department.
Columbus Regional Hospital spokeswoman Kelsey DeClue confirmed to RTV6 that officers Ron May and Dan Meister were dismissed from their independent contractor jobs at the hospital on November 30, one day after Columbus Police contacted ISP on to investigate a criminal complaint.
FULL RESPONSE FROM COLUMBUS CITY ATTORNEY:
"Last year the Columbus Police Department initiated an internal investigation after an allegation was made that a supervisor was being compensated for working a secondary job at the same time he was working for the Columbus Police Department. After the allegation was made, a review of the work hours of all the officers working at this secondary employer was conducted and the internal investigation was expanded to include a second supervisor. The Indiana State Board of Accounts recently concluded and filed the results of their special investigation into this incident.
The Columbus Police Department has 98 employees who work different shifts within several different divisions. We have an established chain of command, where supervisors are delegated responsibilities. One of the responsibilities delegated to the supervisors overseeing a shift or division is the scheduling, verification and submission of work hours. When the internal investigation revealed that these two supervisors violated numerous department policies regarding this responsibility, the department’s administration began the process of moving forward with disciplining the two supervisors. However, one supervisor left the department, while the other accepted the discipline before the process began. These actions removed these employees from their supervisory roles and their ability to act as law enforcement officers. In addition, the department’s administration requested that the Indiana State Police conduct an independent third party criminal investigation to determine if the officers violated any laws.
Columbus Chief of Police, Jonathan Rohde stated, “In all circumstances our officers are held to the highest of standards, and are expected to uphold and follow the law.” “We have worked hard to establish a positive relationship between our officers and the public, and part of maintaining that trusting relationship is holding our employees accountable when they do not follow the established policies that reflect our core values.” “We have held these officers accountable for their actions because it was not only the right thing to do, but also because it is extremely important that every member of our community continues to have confidence in the officers who serve them.” “That is exactly why we asked the Indiana State Police to conduct a criminal investigation, which included an investigation by the State Board of Accounts.” “It is my hope that the actions of two do not reflect poorly on the 96 other officers and employees who have dedicated their careers to serving and protecting you!”
The Columbus Police Department has since fully implemented an electronic time keeping system with checks and balances that greatly reduce the possibility and likelihood of individual abuse. The department’s pursuit to improve its time keeping system began in 2014, when Chief Rohde made a request to invest in electronic time keeping software in order to eliminate errors and reduce time spent scheduling and managing officers’ work hours. The first electronic time keeping system was purchased by the prior city administration in 2015. In 2016 it was determined that this system was incompatible with the complexities of the police department’s work schedule. Chief Rohde and the current city administration recognized the need to improve the time keeping system, and considerable research was done to find an electronic timekeeping system that would work. In 2017, a software program was identified through a collective effort that included many city departments. In 2018, the system was configured and by the fourth quarter, the system was being utilized in duplication with the existing process to ensure a flawless transition. On January 1, 2019, the transition from paper to electronic time reporting was complete, which accomplished the intended goals while also establishing checks and balances in order to reduce the likelihood of individual abuse."