In a matter of weeks, the top two managers of the Clark County Department of Job & Family Services have left the agency that has more than 200 employees and an annual budget of $36 million.
The departures came after the director and the county administrator clashed over allegations of insubordination and problems with a youth jobs program.
Robert Suver, the former Clark County Job & Family Services director, was placed on administrative leave with pay pending an investigation for “acts of insubordination,” according to a memo sent by Clark County Administrator Nathan Kennedy to Suver on June 27. Suver was not permitted to speak with any employees of DJFS upon his leave.
Suver, in a memo on June 30, called the situation “a strange and upsetting turn of events.” He retired from his position on July 12, according to a memo sent to Kennedy on July 11, citing family health issues.
Suver, who served on multiple national boards and was named top director by the Ohio Job and Family Services Directors’ Association in 2005, said he was disappointed with the way his time ended at DJFS.
Suver didn’t plan to retire for another two to four years.
“I never got to say goodbye,” Suver said.
Kerry Pedraza, the DJFS assistant director, resigned last week after being named the new director of the United Way for Clark, Champaign and Madison counties. She’ll begin her new job on Oct. 1.
“It was an incredible opportunity I had to jump at,” Pedraza said.
Pedraza, who worked at DJFS for 15 years, said she had planned to apply for the United Way position before the investigation took place. She said she did not apply for the director position after Suver’s departure because of the possible position with United Way.
The Springfield News-Sun filed a public records request on Sept. 5 for Suver’s personnel file at the county commission office, but those records were not made available in time for this story.
An independent law firm’s investigation of a DJFS summer youth employment program tied to federal funds has been completed, Kennedy said. However, the investigation has “holes” because officials were never able to speak with Suver because he retired before investigators talked with him.
“Quite frankly, our investigation is very incomplete,” Kennedy said. “We have holes in it because there are questions we would’ve asked Bob. We didn’t get an opportunity to do so, and because he’s no longer an employee, we don’t have the ability to ask him. It kind of terminated the investigation.”
The county is still in the process of hiring a new DJFS director, according to Kennedy. Virginia Martycz now will serve as acting director until the position is filled, possibly in November.
Summer Youth Program
Kennedy’s June 17 memo states the Board of Clark County Commissioners was unhappy with the handling of the request for proposal, called an RFP, for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Summer Youth Employment Program. Each board member told Kennedy discipline must be issued for the RFP, in which an approximately $565,000 contract was awarded to Opportunities for Individual Change of Clark County on June 11.
“Things came up in the process that gave the Board and I cause for concern,” Kennedy said. “We thought an investigation was necessary.”
Suver said DJFS had been working on the contract since February. The department received more federal money than usual for the program, which provides funding to employers to hire youths ages 16 to 24.
According to commission minutes from June 11, DJFS told vendors in a letter it had decided to disperse money to multiple organizations — OIC and Inside Out — to allow youths more choices and longer work hours. In a rating system, OIC scored 70 out of 80 points, while Inside Out scored 64, but Suver said OIC was awarded more points because it had worked with DJFS in the past.
Kennedy argued the RFP called for just one award recipient and that Inside Out did not meet insurance requirements.
Suver said the RFP was similar to the one used in previous years where multiple awards were dispersed. The language in the RFP says “vendor(s)” and “provider(s)” when referring to who would be awarded the contract, although there is also a section dedicated to tiebreakers.
Kennedy wasn’t pleased with how the RFP was drafted because “it’s ambiguous.” The RFP template is tweaked each year, Kennedy said, and “it wasn’t done very well.”
The insurance requirements provided by Inside Out included a letter of assurance that insurance would be purchased if the award was issued to the organization.
“Anyone knows you’re not going to purchase the insurance until you have the contract,” Suver said.
Both OIC and Inside Out were told by DJFS staff, including Workplus Deputy Director Lehan Peters, that summer work could begin on June 1 before the contract was awarded. The organizations had already started work before the contract was awarded and were asked to stop immediately.
“That’s a problem,” Kennedy said. “We take it very seriously.”
Commissioners, who had final say on the contract, had four options. They could award the contract to OIC, Inside Out, both organizations or table the issue. The commission voted 2-1 to award the contract to OIC. Commissioners David Hartley and John Detrick voted for the resolution, while commissioner Rick Lohnes voted against it.
Suver said a meeting was held after the decision, and OIC agreed to hire Inside Out’s employees as part of the program.
However, the issue prompted an investigation, Kennedy said, “because we didn’t know what happened.”
“We have a better understanding (because of the investigation),” Kennedy said, “but we still don’t know.”
Kennedy’s June 17 memo also addressed concerns of failing to follow chain of command and issues requesting time off. The board also rescinded Suver’s travel for the National Association of Counties annual meeting in Texas, which Suver is a member.
In the memo, Kennedy notes Suver is “very comfortable” going to individual commissioners on business-related issues, “without always notifying me.” The county has a chain of command in which all directors report to the county administrator or acting county administrator.
Failure to follow chain of command “leads to confusion by the board and insubordination by the director,” Kennedy wrote. The memo states Suver must answer individual commissioners questions then tell Kennedy about the conversation promptly.
Suver said during his tenure at DJFS, one commissioner typically served as the liaison to the agency. In recent years, Suver said “they quit doing that” and all communication was to be relayed to Kennedy.
“I viewed that as insecurity,” Suver said.
There was “never” any attempt to go straight to commissioners to deceive Kennedy, Suver said.
Kennedy wouldn’t comment on chain of command issues, saying the memo “speaks for itself.”
The memo also said Suver must request all non-emergency leave through the county administrator prior to it taking place, including vacation, flex time, personal leave, sick leave as well as coming in 30 minutes early or 30 minutes late. The requests must be made by call, e-mail, voicemail, in person, memo or a request for leave sheet.
“This rule has been in place for all other directors, and you need to follow it, too,” Kennedy wrote.
Suver said the department’s leave requests are handled through an electronic system, which Kennedy was set up with upon his appointment as county administrator in 2011. Suver said Kennedy chose not to use the system, and requests were typically made through phone calls, e-mails or personal interaction.
Kennedy said the system was never implemented because DJFS and the commission office are on different computer systems.
“We tried but we couldn’t get it to work,” Kennedy said.
The memo also rescinded Suver’s travel to Texas for the annual conference in July, as well as any future travel. Kennedy said he was asked by a commissioner to include that in the memo.
Suver said the trip cost about $2,500 and he had attended the conference for at least 10 years.
“A lot of programs were brought to Clark County through my work with NACO,” Suver said.
Suver was placed under administrative leave 10 days later and was not permitted to contact anyone “directly or indirectly” from DJFS, the county or associates of the county, with the exception of Kennedy and human resources director Michelle Noble. He was also asked to make himself available for questioning during business hours and to turn any county property, including cell phone, vehicle, keys and computer equipment.
In a response June 30, Suver listed several career highlights, including his work with the Marriage Resource Center, Project Jericho and NACO.
“Unfortunately, I feel my character has been attacked and therefore tarnished at the very time in a 40-year career when it should be anything but that,” Suver wrote. “So it is with much shock and disappointment when I am told I am as lacking, out of touch and unsupported in a matter of less than four weeks, when the opposite has been the case for almost 40 years.”
He wrote he had always had “outstanding evaluations” during his career but hadn’t received an evaluation from Kennedy since he became county administrator.
Suver received an overall evaluation score of “exceeds expectations” in his final evaluation in October 2010.
Kennedy said evaluations are not required for unclassified employees, but the board has asked for evaluations to be performed later this year.
Suver wrote he would consider submitting his retirement effective July 31 if Kennedy could provide several things, including vacation and sick leave payout, a 2-percent one-time payment for merit performance, paid health insurance coverage through August 2013, removal of all letters from his personnel file referring to allegations of insubordination and personal items from office.
Suver retired from the position two weeks later on July 12. According to his DJFS personnel file, Suver was paid for both his vacation and sick leave.
Suver said he still hasn’t been told what prompted the administrative leave.
“Absolutely not,” Suver said.
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