A two-month investigation of Killeen’s Fleet Services Division turned up a culture of theft, mismanagement and poor oversight in the department, but it also raised several questions that remain unanswered.
Four Fleet Services employees — including the division’s director — lost their jobs as a result of the investigation, but more than 20 employees were implicated in thefts from the city’s motor pool. Eighteen employees were given a “written warning” for misappropriating city property and conducting repairs on personal vehicles using city resources. Four others reportedly were “respectfully reminded” about the city’s guidelines in those areas.
Nearly 20 employees turned in dozens of stolen items during a one-week amnesty period last fall, at the request of the city’s police chief. But fired mechanic John Acker was placed on administrative leave just five days before the amnesty was announced. That he was not offered the same terms as the other department employees was a point of contention in Acker’s personnel review board hearing last week.
Acker’s attorney contended that his client’s mistakes were no worse than those committed by the employees who were allowed to remain with the department.
However, a Killeen assistant city attorney offered evidence at the hearing that Acker had been involved in a 2002 incident in which city equipment and materials were used to modify another employee’s family vehicle. The other employee — the division’s director at the time — subsequently resigned and was convicted of misdemeanor theft.
Still, if the culture of theft was so prevalent within Fleet Services, why weren’t more employees terminated following the recent investigation?
At Acker’s hearing, Police Chief Dennis Baldwin stated he was more concerned about mitigating the cost to taxpayers by recovering the stolen items.
But the explanation offered by the assistant city attorney summarized the reality of the situation. She said they couldn’t fire the whole division because it would shut down the city, especially in regard to public safety.
So basically, the decision was made to try to recover as much stolen property as possible, with a minimum of disruption to city operations.
Apparently, the culture of corruption was deeply ingrained. In his videotaped interview with police, Acker said the misappropriation of city property had been going on since at least 1994, when he started working in Fleet Services.
City documents show that over two decades, thefts from the Fleet Services barn include a camera, 22 used tires, cans of paint, tool boxes, brake fluid and the exhaust system to a Crown Victoria police car.
The obvious question is why such long-term misappropriation of city property has never been caught by either the city’s annual internal or external audits.
Maybe the mess was just too big and too complicated. Baldwin noted during Acker’s hearing that trying to sort through it all was nearly impossible.
Still, the 2002 case involving the former Fleet Services director should have provided the impetus to impose more stringent controls on the motor pool operation. But apparently, that never happened. Hopefully, those controls will be in place moving forward.
More importantly, the city needs to establish a culture of honesty among employees, as well as encourage “whistleblowers” to report inappropriate actions by co-workers. Indeed, it was a Fleet Services supervisor who initiated the police investigation by reporting the theft of a $400 truck engine last September.
However, that same supervisor was singled out by Acker as having taken several vehicle parts during his employment with the division — an assertion the police chief acknowledged.
The city is to be commended for trying to put an end to the culture of theft that had pervaded the Fleet Services Division for so long.
But in firing some employees while merely reprimanding others who have acknowledged their impropriety, the city has left itself open to speculation and second-guessing.
And that makes it awfully difficult to wipe the slate clean.
Contact Dave Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7543