Overtime review has Westmoreland sheriff, controller quarreling

| Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, 8:24 p.m.

Westmoreland County Sheriff Jonathan Held failed to properly document $124,000 in overtime pay to deputies, along with $314,000 paid to part-time officers last year, county Controller Jeff Balzer said.

Balzer's review of the sheriff's office payroll procedures in 2012 was publicly released this week.

The office employs about 50 full-time and about 15 part-time deputy sheriffs. It has an annual budget of about $4.78 million and collects about $1.78 million a year in revenue, according to the county's 2013 budget.

Held denied the charges and said Balzer's office has no standing to criticize procedures in the sheriff's department, including a policy that allows deputies to volunteer at community events while wearing official uniforms.

“He's wrong,” Held said. “It's an office policy, and he doesn't run this office.”

The controller's office released two reviews of the sheriff's office — a fiscal audit and a review of payroll procedures.

The audit found no issues.

The payroll review, however, concluded that Held's department did not properly document overtime pay.

Payments were made without documenting the time worked, when it was worked and what duties were performed, according to Balzer's review. Failure to document those payments could lead to fines levied by the Department of Labor, Balzer said.

Held said the antiquated payroll system used by the county limits proper documentation of overtime.

John DuMont, a director with the Department of Labor in Pittsburgh, said failure to properly document overtime violates federal laws.

“You have to have records of it. It's the employer's legal burden to keep them and in this case it's the sheriff's office,” DuMont said.

In addition, Balzer said Held violated the state's County Code by allowing off-duty deputies to volunteer while in uniform.

Balzer said the County Code specifically prohibits any deputy sheriff, detective or police officer from performing any private work.

Uniformed deputies performed volunteer work at last year's county fair, Balzer said.

“The rules are the rules, and you have to abide by them. We believe we've identified where he is not in compliance with the law,” Balzer said. “The watchdog is barking at the door, and it's now time for someone to open the door and tell the dog to shut up or investigate.”

Gene Ferace, an assistant county solicitor, said violations of the County Code, which are misdemeanor offenses, could be prosecuted by the district attorney.

Commissioner Ted Kopas said the allegations of code violations should be investigated.

“The preferred course would be for the sheriff to comply with the county code, and, if he chooses not to, I support forwarding it to the district attorney,” Kopas said.

Commissioner Charles Anderson said there are no plans to ask District Attorney John Peck to investigate.

“We're not at that point yet, but we're watching it closely,” Anderson said.

The volunteer work could put the county at risk because it could be held liable if a uniformed deputy is injured while performing private volunteer work, Ferace said.

Held called Balzer's finding a “hoax” and said he follows payroll procedures used by his predecessors.

Held said the controller's office, because it is involved in the payroll process, is not qualified to report on its procedures.

“The fact that the audit department and the payroll department answer to the same row officer, the county controller, creates a conflict of interest, which calls into question the integrity of this limited review,” Held said.

Held confirmed that his deputies can do volunteer work, such as traffic control and security, while wearing their uniforms.

“It's their own time. If my deputies want to volunteer, they can,” Held said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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