The investigation into Liane Richardson’s pay was kicked off by a whistleblower. A county employee, represented by the county’s AFSCME union, called attention to “out of the ordinary adjustments to Richardson’s take home compensation.” Now some are questioning the investigation the pay controversy has trigged.
Richardson is entitled to accumulate unused sick and vacation time based on her government service, according to her contract with the county. Her yearly base pay is $152,345. On top of that pay, the county gives her “deferred compensation” — putting about 5 percent of that $150,000 into a pool investment account. Beginning sometime in January, Richardson apparently began to get her monthly deferred compensation upfront, which is not provided for in her contract.
Worried about taxpayer funds, the employee blew the whistle. The employee was so worried, or the atmosphere at county offices is so strained, that more half of the Lane County Commission’s statement to the media on the Richardson issue was devoted to explaining “We encourage employees to speak up when they see something out of the ordinary, and we will protect the employee’s rights to bring matters of concern to our attention without any retribution. We understand the gravity of the situation and we ask for patience from the public as we gather all of the facts.”
The employee retained an attorney, Barry Davis, and that attorney sent a letter to the county. When the county and Richardson received that letter on July 22, Richardson sent emails to the County Commission and to the R-G discussing the pay issue, and she placed her self on paid administrative leave. The county scheduled the Wednesday, July 24 executive session to discuss “To consider the dismissal or disciplining of, or to hear complaints or charges brought against, a public officer, employee, staff member or individual agent who does not request an open hearing,” which the media can, and did, attend, but cannot report on.
The result of the session, according to the statement the county issued through public information officer Anne Marie Levis, is that “County [c]ounsel will oversee an outside investigation into the matters brought forth. The [b]oard will, as appropriate, take the necessary steps to address issues that come out of the investigation.”
But some question whether County Counsel Stephen Dingle should be overseeing the investigation. The AFSCME union has sent a letter requesting public records relating to the controversial large pay raises that had been proposed in regard to Dingle and Richardson.
Dingle also apparently knew that Richardson had been looking into changing the way she got her pay. The R-G reported on July 24 “When a county employee asked her about the change, Richardson wrote that she reverted to the original arrangement, with the money going into the investment account. She stated that she then went to county counsel, Stephen Dingle, and was told that changing how she received that deferred compensation would require a board-approved contract amendment.”
Jim Steiner of AFSCME says the union inquired into the gross wages, deferred compensation, time managment, travel and phone expenses and bonuses for Richardson and Dingle because they are related to collective bargaining. "They say there's no money, so how is someone personally enriching themselves?" he asks. The county has been strapped for cash for years, and during the time Richardson was allegedly making changes to the money she was taking home and asking for a 15 percent raise, the county was asking voters to pass a jail levy to keep criminals in jail and making cuts to much needed social programs.
EW has asked the county's public information officer for comment on Dingle's overseeing the investigation.
For that comment, see this blog post with Dingle's response.