State renews probe of 6th Correctional Services

Auditors returned for more information about “additional concerns”

Erin Jordan
Published: April 4 2014 | 3:55 pm - Updated: 7 April 2014 | 3:13 pm in

The State Auditor's Office has launched a follow-up review of the 6th Judicial District Department of Correctional Services.

Four auditors visited the district offices March 18 to get additional information after issuing a report Jan. 10 that detailed $770,000 of misspending by the agency that provides community-based corrections for six eastern Iowa counties, including Linn and Johnson.

“As an organization, we're going to cooperate with the auditors,” District Director Bruce Vander Sanden told the Board of Directors Friday.

Auditors told VanderSanden the visit was to gather information about “additional concerns” following an 18-month review requested by Iowa Department of Corrections Director John Baldwin. Vander Sanden does not know how long this probe will take or whether it's considered a formal audit.

Deputy State Auditor Tami Kusian, who led the initial review, was not available for comment Friday afternoon. The Iowa Attorney General's Office has been reviewing the report since early February to see if any criminal charges apply.

The Jan. 10 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 (CCIA), a nonprofit started by the district's former director, Gary Hinzman.

More than $440,000 of these disbursements came from district managers spending some part of their time doing CCIA duties. The nonprofit also used state vehicles, cell phones and office space for free. These practices have been discontinued.

District officials promised to review vacation and sick policies after the auditor's report showed $170,000 in improper vacation payouts to former employees and $40,000 in vacation paid before it was earned.

Staff who spoke at a February board meeting said they wanted the district to strip management of extra vacation and sick time. Vander Sanden told the board Friday he informed all district employees Feb. 7 that managers would no longer get additional sick time.

The vacation issue is thornier, he said. The district's 181 employees have eight different job classifications with varied vacation accrual rates. He talked with union representatives, who agreed on creating a working group to study the issue, he said.

Not all staff members were satisfied.

“There still remains this separate issue that the policy this board approved allows management to get an extra 40 hours a year,” Candace Acord, a probation officer in Coralville, told the board Friday.

To further smooth friction between management and staff, the district will pay $5,000 to hire mediator Steve Sovern to lead sessions for all employees. Part of the process will be developing a list of values and plans for the district, Vander Sanden said.

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