Employees of the 6th Judicial District Department of Correctional Services want answers from the Board of Directors that oversaw the agency while it misspent state funds.
About 40 people attended the board meeting Friday. Many of them were Correctional Services employees who took time off work to hear the board discuss a state audit showing $776,000 in improper disbursements by the agency from fiscal 2009 through fiscal 2012.
“We need some answers from the board, not from Bruce,” said Randy Day, a probation and parole officer, referring to District Director Bruce Vander Sanden.
Employees were not allowed to ask the board questions Friday because several members had just received the 64-page audit. The audit will be discussed at internal meetings next week and at the board’s Feb. 7 meeting, Vander Sanden said.
Several employees said they were prohibited from speaking with reporters. The district’s previous director, Gary Hinzman, required staff to alert him whenever they talked with the media, but Vander Sanden said he didn't think that was an official policy.
The audit, released Jan. 10, showed the district made improper payments on behalf of the Community Corrections Improvement Association, a not-for-profit started by Hinzman in 1991. The district paid $444,000 of CCIA’s payroll as well as provided free office space, vehicle use and cellphones, auditors found.
"When those programs were set up, what occurred was CCIA got cellphones on our plan because the more cellphones you got, the cheaper the phones were for everybody," Vander Sanden said. "It was never intended for the 6th district to pay for those cellphones."
The district also made $170,000 in improper vacation payouts, according to the audit.
The audit has been given to the Iowa Attorney General, who will decide whether to file criminal charges.
Vander Sanden said he already has sold 19 vehicles and removed CCIA employees from the district’s plan for health and dental benefits. The CCIA paid the district for these benefits, but they were not entitled to get them as part of the state plan, the audit showed.
The district’s new division manager in charge of finances also has changed financial reports so they are easier for the board and state officials to understand, Vander Sanden said. John Hannaford, who previously held the finance position, left in August 2012.
One board member expressed regret they hadn’t caught the problems sooner.
“It’s a good wake-up call for us,” said Ray Garringer, who also is on the Iowa County Board of Supervisors. “We do have a responsibility, and we need to make sure we do what is required of us.”
AFSCME, which represents district employees in six counties, put the blame on managers.
“I want to make clear that these inappropriate expenditures and mismanagement were made by the former district director and some of his management employees,” AFSCME President Danny Homan said in a prepared statement.“This inappropriate spending was not made by, nor did it benefit, the district’s front line staff (bargaining unit members). In spite of mismanagement and understaffing, the community-based corrections non-management staff work tirelessly and with dedication to help prepare offenders to fully rejoin society,” Homan said.