Audit Reveals Hiring Abuses

Audit Reveals Hiring Abuses

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Widespread mismanagement in the Salt Lake County personnel office allowed at least one official to use his post to put family members on the county payroll, according to an audit released Tuesday.

And that perk is just one example of a lack of protocol in the county's personnel division that could be contributing to time card fraud, tuition abuse and suspect hiring practices, auditor Sean Thomas said.

"The whole core mission of the personnel division is to maintain a fair, objective and equitable process in our hiring," Thomas said. "Based on what we've looked at, there were no basic principals as far as how they operate in that division to carry out that mission."

The audit specifically looked at the hiring of Becky Arrigo as an elections specialist by her husband, Roy Arrigo, the compensation manager in the personnel division. The audit said Arrigo violated the county's personnel policy by screening and paring down applicants for the position his wife ultimately received.

Arrigo, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday, also bumped up the salary range for his wife's position shortly after she got the job, which also violated the policy prohibiting employees from using their position to secure privileges for themselves or for others, the audit said.

And it's not Arrigo's first time to be cited for improperly pushing his wife's employment. An in-house investigation commissioned by the County Council earlier this year also turned up allegations of Arrigo tampering with the system to get his wife a job.

But that violation is not what alarms Thomas the most. Rather, the lack of a clear policy to disallow employees from influencing the hiring of family members indicates widespread problems within the division, he said.

"It just sort of violates the whole concept of a personnel division," he said. "The systemic thing is a vacuum of policy and standard operating procedures in the personnel division."

Jim Wightman, director of the county's audit division, added that he was also concerned about personnel director Felix McGowan's slow response to the violation.

McGowan, who was unavailable for comment Tuesday, issued an unsigned written warning to Arrigo almost nine months after the hiring of Arrigo's wife.

"Though I was aware of your involvement with your wife and daughter's hiring, recent personnel actions regarding your wife which you personally processed suggests a serious lack of judgment and raises the question of conflict of interest," McGowan wrote in a 2004 letter.

Wightman said the warning also indicated that this was not the first time nepotism issues had surfaced within the office. McGowan had failed to correct those problems, Wightman said, and didn't write the warning until employees from the clerk and personnel offices complained about Arrigo's role in hiring his wife.

"They need internal standard operating procedures that take away these gray areas and don't allow the latitude of these different personnel people," Wightman said.

Mayor Peter Corroon said he is still absorbing the audit findings and has not yet determined what, if any, discipline is needed for Arrigo or McGowan.

"It's obvious wrongdoing. Clear nepotism and obvious conflicts like that are things you should not have to spell out to somebody in writing," Corroon said.

Corroon added that the audit is an example of a culture that has spread among county offices where wrongdoing is tolerated by supervisors. That culture, he said, needs to change, and his administration is working to squelch any allowance of questionable practices.

Although Thomas said it is not his decision whether McGowan will retain control over the personnel office, he said the division does lack "strong management oversight."

"There are people that have a lot of power, and the personnel director is one of those," Thomas said. "That person's got to be tough and dedicated to an objective and fair process." A new nepotism policy passed by the County Council this year aims to restore some of that objectivity by prohibiting employees from influencing the hiring of a relative or supervising a relative.

But the audit suggested a division-specific policy also needs to be written to prohibit personnel managers from being involved in the hiring of family members or making salary determinations for a family member, the audit said.

The report also recommends creating a standard operating procedure that will address all aspects of personnel recruitment, hiring and salary determination.

Those procedures could have helped the personnel department avoid some of the scandal it has encountered in the past year including allegations of time card fraud and abuse of the county's tuition reimbursement system, Thomas said.

A previous audit revealed employees were receiving tuition payments when they were not enrolled in college courses. Much of that confusion, Thomas said, stemmed from the lack of a uniform management policy.

Thomas is currently looking into the time card allegations and will likely assess each division's compliance during routine audits throughout the year.

(Copyright 2005 The Deseret Morning News)

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