Employees of the 6th Judicial District Department of Correctional Services voted no confidence in their leaders last spring, months before a report from the State Auditor’s Office showed more than $700,000 in misspending.
The vast majority of 76 AFCSME members who completed surveys in March said they were not confident in the direction and decision-making of the former director Gary Hinzman, as well as Bruce Vander Sanden, who took over leadership of the agency when Hinzman retired in May.
Further, most employees surveyed said they didn’t feel safe from harassment and retaliation and didn’t think they would be treated fairly if they voiced alternative views.
“As our survey and the recent State Auditor’s report show, there were clear problems with Gary Hinzman as director,” AFSCME President Danny Homan said in a prepared statement. “The 6th District Board and (Corrections Director) John Baldwin were aware of these issues and chose to do nothing.”
The State Auditor's report, 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.
The district also made $170,000 in improper vacation payouts, according to the report.
Several district board members said they received the survey results last spring, but didn't discuss them in depth or take action.
“In the context of the state audit going on at that point, there were a lot of things in play,” said board member Steve Ovel. “As we go forward, we will be conscious of those perspectives.”
Ray Garringer, a board member and Iowa County supervisor, said he is rarely able to attend meetings because they conflict with county meetings, but he remembers getting the survey results by email.
“Maybe I did see it, but I’m not familiar enough to talk about it,” he said.
The AFSCME survey went out to 117 employees and was returned by 76. It’s not a scientific survey and the responses don’t always add up to 100 percent because some people didn’t answer all questions or circled more than one response.
The strongest response on the 16-question survey came to the question “I feel confident in the direction and decision-making of the 6th DCS Director Gary Hinzman.” About 90 percent of the respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed.
About three-quarters of respondents voiced no confidence in Vander Sanden.
Ovel thinks employees’ feelings about Vander Sanden have improved since Vander Sanden became director of the agency. Vander Sanden has started holding regularly discussions to hear employee issues.
“He’s doing exactly what he needs to do,” Ovel said. “I’m very confident in Bruce’s leadership.”
Employees surveyed didn’t feel much better about the 20-member board. About 70 percent of respondents said they did not feel confident in the direction and decision-making of the board.