Cleveland fire chief on payroll audit scandal: 'Things should have been done differently'

CLEVELAND - Cleveland Fire Chief Paul Stubbs answered questions about a recent audit exposing payroll abuses by city firefighters.

"Obviously, there's things that should have been done differently," said Stubbs about the audit.

Stubbs gave his first television interview about the scandal to NewsChannel5 Investigator Sarah Buduson Tuesday afternoon.

"What I regret the very most is that we continued to a use a somewhat antiquated and somewhat dysfunctional process for our payroll," said Stubbs.

Stubbs said the fire department still uses some manual record keeping processes. He said the system made it difficult to detect some firefighters were getting paid for work they were not doing.

"There are no crooks here. We were doing our best. We may have made mistakes," said Stubbs.

Martin Flask, the Cleveland director of public safety, said the audit uncovered firefighters abusing a policy that allows them to trade shifts.

For example, the audit found firefighter Calvin Robinson has worked approximately three months since January 2009, but was paid his full $53,890 salary each year.

Flask said firefighter Andrew Kovacic did not work for five months from November 2010 to March 2011, then worked 24 hour shifts for 18 days to make up the time.

Flask said Kovacic's decision to work so many hours was "unsafe."

Flask said firefighter Joe Coneglio did not work from January to April in 2011 and lists San Diego, California as his home address. He said Coneglio then crams in extra shifts when he is in Cleveland.

Flask said the city has already initiated a second audit to further explore payroll problems and to determine who is culpable for the mistakes.

He said it is unclear how many firefighters abused the city's policy or how much the abuse may have cost taxpayers.

Flask said the audit did uncover problems that cost the public.

The audit said about 30 percent of retirement benefits paid to firefighters during the last fiscal year were in error because used sick days were not deducted from firefighters' benefits packages.

Stubbs plans to retire in April. He said the decision was unrelated to the payroll audit.

He also said he will try to restore the public's faith in the fire department before he leaves his job.

"Trust is a fragile thing. Once you lose it, it's tough to get it back. And we'll work to get it back," he said.

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