Declaring “it is time to clean house,” the director of the state Department of Transportation took steps Monday to deal with widespread abuse of overtime and expense claims by “dozens” of employees in his vast agency.
Leo Trombatore told the department’s 15,000 employees in a letter that he was “shocked by disclosures over the past several months of misuse of overtime, misuse of personal vehicle mileage and improper charges for travel expenses.”
“Dozens of Caltrans employees appear to have used improper judgments in these matters. Neither this Administration nor the public has any stomach for these allegations, which are damaging Caltrans and the thousands of honest and conscientious employees who work here.”
Trombatore said he has fired two employees who “abused travel expense claims and vehicle use” and ordered 13 Sacramento employees to reimburse the state for “improperly charged expenses.” He said one supervisor has been ordered demoted for improper use of a personal vehicle.
$56,000 in Overtime
Gene Berthelsen, a department spokesman, said there will be “many more” such actions by Trombatore before his investigation into such abuses is completed.
Two Assembly committees were told earlier this month that audits have uncovered excessive overtime and mileage paid to 21 department employees in San Francisco and Sacramento.
Audits by the Department of Finance showed overtime payments as high as $56,000 to a single employee in one year with other employees earning between $25,000 and $40,000 in overtime. One lawmaker said some employees are earning twice as much in overtime as they receive in regular salary.
Berthelsen said Trombatore has ordered an investigation of travel expense claims made by Richard Doyle, a deputy director of the department. Last week, Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda) requested an attorney general’s investigation of Doyle’s approval of more than $20,000 of his own travel expenses for the last two years while he was on a “field assignment” in Los Angeles.
The attorney general’s office found no criminal wrongdoing but suggested a further state investigation into potential violations of regulations.
Trombatore said he has instructed all department managers to tighten use of overtime, travel expense claims and state vehicles.
“I will not stand by and allow an organization which I have served and respected for 38 years to be disgraced by the actions of a few who are willing to choose narrow personal gain over public benefit,” Trombatore said in his letter.
He added that the department “has been too loose” in regulating expenses and overtime, and said “the fault lies with managers and supervisors.”
He said he was setting up a top-level team to evaluate all of the department’s work practices and make recommendations for improvements.
Trombatore said he also is asking for help from “the thousands of honest, conscientious Caltrans employees” in uncovering further abuses. He urged employees to report to his office any “unusual procedures” they have observed.