Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Sunday, June 7, 2009
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Ambulance corps audit finds payroll padding, chief resigns

The Key Largo Fire-EMS District Board gave the Key Largo Ambulance Corps a public tongue-lashing, and the chief later resigned last week after a preliminary audit uncovered payroll padding, security problems and potential conflicts of interest.

District board members Mark Wheaton, Mike Cavagnaro and Marilyn Beyer said they were upset to learn that Chief Franky Jones was continuing to assign himself successive 24-hour shifts weeks after they were told the problem had been resolved.

Their critical comments were in response to a draft, labeled "For Discussion Purposes Only," of a $15,000 audit the Fire-EMS board commissioned after departing ambulance corps officer Johnny Delgado made several allegations of department mismanagement.

The audit's most important findings were that:

• Jones has been allocating the most hours -- and therefore the most pay -- to himself, receiving an $108,000 annual salary and $41,260 in overtime pay over the past two years;

• Allowing Jones to serve as chief and a member of the ambulance corps' board confuses the responsibilities of policymaker and administrator. "In instructing staff he may discuss issues that may be voted upon at a future date," the auditors wrote.

• Unsecured doors at the ambulance corps building allow anyone access. The audit recommended the building have an access system that requires members to swipe an electronic card to gain entry.

Wheaton told Jones the board does not want to micromanage either the ambulance corps or the Key Largo Volunteer Fire Department that it also oversees, but Delgado's complaint forced the board's hand.

"If you want my resignation, you can have it right now," Jones said, obviously rankled.

"I'll accept your resignation," Wheaton shot back.

Although the Fire-EMS board has no authority to fire him, Jones tendered his resignation on Monday, June 1. Donald Bock was named chief in his place.

Beyer said she was under the impression that Jones had fixed the payroll problem.

"We thought a lot of this was taken care of, but we found out it wasn't through Johnny's letter," she said.

Cavagnaro offered that Jones is a good paramedic, but not a good administrator, citing morale problems.

"I'd like you to clean up the payroll by the next meeting. This has been the Franky Jones show. It's got to stop," Cavagnaro said.

"It's stopped," Jones replied, later adding, "You can have my resignation right now. I won't be a whipping boy for anybody."

But before it was over, Wheaton directed his anger toward his own board for not being more proactive.

"How do we answer to the public?" he asked rhetorically. "We look like idiots because we should have been more involved. We're at fault."

Board member Tom Tharp suggested allowing the ambulance corps' officers first crack at resolving the issues.

"The ambulance corps is not broken," he said. "Overall the public is extremely satisfied with both the [ambulance] corps and the fire department. I'm not unhappy with the performance of the corps. I'd like them to come back in short order and tell us what they propose to do. Give us a work plan."

Among the recommendations of auditors Berkowitz Dick Pollack & Brant of Miami were that:

• Scheduling should be done electronically by someone other than the chief;

• A grievance or complaint system should be implemented;

• The chief's duties should be documented in writing so there is no question about his responsibilities and authority.

sgibbs@keysnews.com

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