Employees from the 6th Judicial District Department of Correctional Services want the Board of Directors to make changes that include stripping management of extra vacation and sick time following a controversial audit report released last month.
Employees were allowed to speak directly to the board Friday for the first time in recent years. They expressed frustration with the way the board has treated non-management employees and demanded changes from the district that provides probation and parole in six eastern Iowa counties, including Linn and Johnson.
“This board has the ability to change policy,” said Candace Acord, a probation officer in Coralville. “What I would like you to do today is to make a decision to end the extra sick leave accrual to management and change the policy about vacation.”
Other employees asked for the district to stop allowing a nonprofit to get proceeds from district vending machines and reduce programming fees for offenders.
“It’s not ethical what we’re doing to these people,” Margie Washburn said about a $28-a-day fee for drunken-driving programming. The rate is higher than in other Iowa districts, she said.
The conversation grew heated when Michelle Reese, a probation and parole officer, told board members they share responsibility for misspending identified in a Jan. 10 report from the State Auditor’s Office.
The report identified $776,000 in improper disbursements from fiscal years 2008 through 2012.
The bulk of the misspent funds — $563,000 – went to the Community Corrections Improvement Association, a nonprofit started by the district’s former director, Gary Hinzman. The CCIA had been using state vehicles, cell phones and office space without payment, the report said.
Board Chairman Allan Thoms, who also serves on the CCIA board, said board members often received inaccurate or incomplete information from a former financial officer. But there were no attempts to conceal deficits or defraud taxpayers, he said.
“Don’t continue to rationalize and minimize decisions made by administration and the board,” Reese said. “There does need to be a clear distinction between CCIA and the board. You are the only ones who can make a decision to change this.”
The board will discuss at its March meeting possible changes to the sick leave and vacation policies for district management. District Director Bruce Vander Sanden said he plans to stop allowing CCIA to take vending machine revenue. He will study whether offender fees are too high.
“There are some issues in the past that will still hound us,” board member Fred Mims told employees. “The board needs to be more in tune. You’re going to have a voice, you’re going to be heard.”