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Columbus Police Department changes policy following WRTV investigation into outside employment

State Board of Accounts requested city conduct analysis
 The Columbus Police Department has changed its policy regarding administrative work hours following a WRTV Investigation that raised questions about officers working outside the department.
Posted at 11:17 AM, Nov 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-03 14:51:32-04

COLUMBUS — The Columbus Police Department has changed its policy regarding administrative work hours following a WRTV Investigation that raised questions about officers working outside the department.

In 2020, WRTV Investigates reported Jon Rohde worked two other jobs, a security guard at a hospital and a mediator for the Indiana Office of Court Services, while he was police chief.

A special prosecutor did not file criminal charges against Rohde following a nearly two-year probe by Indiana State Police and the Indiana State Board of Accounts into his outside employment while chief.

In 2020, two former Columbus Police Department officers, Daniel Meister and Ronald May, pleaded guilty to ghost employment after Indiana State Police found they worked security at Columbus Regional Hospital while on duty for the city.

The new policy, which took effect Aug. 30, 2022, applies to administrative officer positions such as the Police Chief, Deputy Police Chief, and Captains and says they must be “fairly compensated for their work hours” and requires all hours and benefits to be “recorded properly.”

The policy also says Columbus Police Department administration employees are required to work nontraditional business hours, including weekends and evenings.

Under the updated policy, police administration employees must enter a minimum of 160 hours — hours worked and benefit hours — into the city’s timekeeping system within a 28-day overtime cycle.

PREVIOUS | Former Columbus police chief dodges questions amid ghost employment allegations

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Bartholomew County Superior Court 2 Judge-elect John Rohde dodged questions from WRTV Investigates after taking the oath of office on December 18, 2020.

WRTV learned of the new policy this week when the city attorney released a report in response to an Indiana State Board of Accounts audit.

The Indiana State Board of Accounts found that five Columbus Police administrative officers and 17 non-administrative police officers had overlapping time with the city and working security at a local hospital.

“No documentation existed to document the normal working hours for these administrative officers,” read the State Board of Accounts audit. “Because administrative officers may work non-standard business hours, we recommend that the City perform its own analysis and recover any overpayments identified.”

In January 2022, the Indiana State Board of Accounts requested the city:

  • Have a clear written approved policy for the hours for all administrative employees and comply with the employee policy
  • Review the city’s timekeeping records, perform its own analysis, and recover any overpayments identified

Alan Whitted, an attorney for the city, told SBOA he reviewed schedules and time-keeping records.

He attributed some of the overlapping time to “an antiquated paper scheduling/timekeeping system that is no longer in use and was very prone to human error and the failure of the supervisors to adjust the time sheets to accurately reflect the exact hours worked.”

On January 1, 2019, the city implemented Executime, a new computerized timekeeping system.

Whitted said the city would not be seeking any overpayments from police officers.

The city attorney cited the following reasons:

  • Many of the payments made to officers are beyond the six-year statute of limitations
  • The evidence is insufficient to prove an overpayment or underpayment
  • The cost of litigation to recover funds owed to the city would exceed the value of any funds recovered by the city
  • Initiating collection litigation would be devastating to the morale and efficiency of the police department and would damage years of effort to hire, maintain and promote officers

Mayor Jim Lienhoop provided the following statement Thursday on behalf of himself and the Columbus Police Department:

"We have completed the review requested by SBOA and have confirmed their findings and those of our earlier reviews, which are that while our timekeeping process warranted improvement, there was no inappropriate behavior by our officers," read the statement. "Accordingly, four years ago we implemented a new, electronic timekeeping system and earlier this year we revised our internal policies to better illustrate that police officers are often called upon to work a non-standard schedule."

Special Prosecutor Doug Brown declined to charge Rohde but said his outside employment looked bad.

Jon Rohde
Jon Rohde

“I don’t like the optics of the target serving as an administrative officer for the Columbus Police Department while also working second and third paid positions during routine business hours of the Columbus Police Department,” Brown's report read. “Poor optics, not criminal conduct. There is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the target engaged in criminal conduct.”

Police administration hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., according to the city’s website.

WRTV Investigates spent months analyzing time records and counted at least 131 days between 2015 and 2018 in which Rohde’s work with the city appeared to overlap with his shift at Columbus Regional Hospital.

WRTV Investigates also counted 68 days between May 2014 and 2018, while Rohde was police chief, in which Rohde reported working a full day at the police department, but also worked for court services, sometimes for hours.

The special prosecutor noted in this report that two of Rohde’s subordinate officers “accepted criminal responsibility for receiving simultaneous compensation from the Columbus Police Department and Columbus Regional Hospital during a period of time from February 2015 to August 2018.”

Brown also pointed out that Meister and May were not allowed to “flex” their schedule and Rohde even told a local newspaper, “Flex time is not in (the Columbus Police Department) policies or directives or utilized.”

But Rohde did “flex” his schedule, Brown pointed out.

However, because Rohde did not apparently have set working hours, the special prosecutor could not find criminal conduct.

Jon Rohde is now a Superior Court 2 judge.

JudgeRohdeMiddle.jpg

The former Columbus police chief dodged questions from WRTV in 2020.

Rohde served as police chief from 2014 to the end of 2019.

In addition to his work as the police chief and security guard at the hospital, Rohde had a third job as well.

Rohde worked as a mediator for the Indiana Office of Court Services. As an attorney, he helped resolve mortgage foreclosure cases between homeowners and banks.

Records show Rohde billed the Indiana Office of Court Services for hundreds of phone and in-person conferences.

WRTV Investigates looked up every single court case number Rohde mediated and found that all of the conferences took place during normal business hours, typically between 1 - 4:30 p.m.

For example, on August 3, 2017, records show Rohde was in 10 different court hearings as a mediator from 1:30 - 4:30 p.m.

That same day, records show he also claimed to be working a full day at the Columbus Police Department.

Former Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown appointed Rohde, who became chief in May 2014.

“I had no idea he was doing this when he worked for me,” Brown told WRTV in 2020. “It kind of makes you wonder — when did he have time to be the police chief?”

former columbus mayor kristen brown
Former Columbus, Indiana Mayor Kristen Brown

Brown said it’s important for the police chief to be at the police department during business hours to respond to questions and concerns from officers, citizens, the mayor and the city council.

"They expect the police chief to be there Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” Brown said. “That's his job."

Brown was concerned about the chief’s outside employment.

“A friend of mine was going through a foreclosure and she said you'll never guess who my mediator was: the police chief," Brown said.

Brown said Columbus police officers are not allowed to just shift their schedules around to accommodate another job.

She also points to city policy that says “All officers shall report to duty on or before the scheduled time and shall not be absent without leave."

Records also reflect that while Rohde occasionally used paid time off, such as holiday or vacation, to accommodate his other jobs at the hospital and court services, most of the time he did not.

Records show once investigations into officers Meister and May began, Rohde started using more paid time off on the days he worked other jobs.

“At the end of the day, it’s their hard-earned money,” Brown said. “Taxpayers should care. It’s their money.”

Records show that as police chief, Rohde earned more than $80,000 a year and after he stepped down as chief in 2019, he earned $105,363 a year as a police captain, records show.

His extra work at the hospital and court services brought in an additional $100,000 over the span of six years, records show.

“He can’t be paid by the city while he’s working for someone else,” Brown said. “That’s ghost employment.”

Former officers Meister and May received a suspended sentence after pleading guilty on Dec. 23 to ghost employment and repaid taxpayers $9,013.89.

In October 2019, the Indiana State Board of Accounts released an audit in which they asked Meister and May to repay taxpayers $9,013.89.

Rohde, who took office in 2014, had this to say about the audit in 2019:

“In all circumstances our officers are held to the highest of standards, and are expected to uphold and follow the law,” read Rohde’s 2019 statement on the audit. “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.”

WRTV Investigates asked Chief Michael Richardson and Mayor Jim Lienhoop to speak on camera and they declined.

City attorney Alan Whitted sent us the following statement in 2020:

“You sent requests for on-camera interviews to Mayor James Lienhoop, Police Chief Mike Richardson and Judge-elect Jonathan Rohde. They have asked me to respond on their behalf and all have declined your request for an on-camera interview.

We understand that you have questions regarding the timekeeping system in our police department and understand that it was a confusing system. The police department operates 24 hours a day and the officers from the newest patrol officer to the Chief of Police are required to be present at meetings, training, and emergencies that might arise outside of their regular working hours. Traditional work schedules aren’t always applicable and our goal is to respond to the needs of the community.

On January 1, 2019 we implemented a new digital timekeeping system with additional checks and balances. In an effort to be transparent, in 2018 we contacted the Indiana State Police to request investigations into timekeeping irregularities and have cooperated during the investigations conducted by ISP as well as the Indiana State Board of Accounts. We also continue to work with these agencies as they review our old time keeping system which should have been changed many years ago. However, since the cases involving two former CPD officers have yet to be adjudicated, we will not be making any additional statements or comments that could inadvertently affect the outcome of these cases.”

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