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ODOT salt records under question

August 3, 2010
By MARK LAW, Staff report

STEUBENVILLE - The Ohio Inspector General's Office has issued a report that is critical of how the Ohio Department of Transportation keeps track of salt usage, particularly about an ODOT Wintersville garage manager who admitted to changing salt inventory records.

The inspector general's office in February received an anonymous complaint about Scott Jenkins, a transportation manager at the ODOT Wintersville garage. During the investigation, Jenkins admitted to changing the salt inventory report to balance the amount of salt used and what was available.

The report stated Jenkins didn't profit from the altering of the reports, which the report stated was misconduct by an ODOT official.

Scott Varner, ODOT spokesperson in Columbus, said there will be review of the findings of the report and a determination will be made as to any administrative action taken against Jenkins.

The report gives ODOT 60 days to correct how it tracks inventory .

The inspector general noted in its investigation that during the winter months there can be wide discrepancies on the amount of salt used and available because ODOT doesn't weigh the salt loaded.

Fact Box

FYI:

The Office of Inspector General investigates allegations of wrongdoing by state agencies and officials in the executive branch of state government. The office reports findings to the Office of the Governor and the state agency involved. It may make administrative recommendations to the agency aimed at improving state government and, when appropriate, a report of investigation may also be forwarded to a county prosecutor for review of possible charges.

An employee manual states the transportation managers can change the logs showing how much salt is used but the changes need to be initialized by the manager. The inspector general's report states Jenkins changed the amount of salt used, without properly marking the changes with his initials.

ODOT uses the information in the transportation manager's reports to determine the per-mile cost of treating roads. Such reports are used to compare districts against each other for performance and costs.

Jenkins admitted to the inspector general's office to altering the reports as a short-cut to fixing inventory shortages of salt.

The inspector general's office studied salt usage reports from around the state and found Geauga County did the worst job of tracking salt usage. The report showed that ODOT garage couldn't account for $250,000 tons of salt used.

Varner said the inspector general's report stated a standardization is needed at all ODOT garages on how much salt is used and available.

"This is not a report about stealing salt but a standardization of how we account for salt, both inventory and usage," Varner said.

Varner noted ODOT at all its garages statewide used 656,000 tons of salt last winter.

ODOT implemented a "smart salt strategy" in 2008 when salt prices skyrocketed, he said.

The inspector general's report also studied ODOT's Wintersville garage purchase and usage of asphalt patching used in the winter and spring months. ODOT crews drove to Canton to purchase the asphalt patch. Because the patch works best when it is still warm, Jenkins ordered drivers to pick up more than needed because the core of the pile of asphalt patch would still be warm when it arrived back in Jefferson County. The patch that did cool was dumped over a hillside because it wouldn't work.

An ODOT District 11 official, which includes Jefferson County, defended the action to the inspector general saying cold patch would fail in a matter of days, resulting in ODOT crews being called to repatch potholes many times. The official said the hot patch would stay in the pothole longer.

The inspector general also stated in the report that John Abdalla, Jefferson County Democratic Party chairman, has been involved in the screening and hiring of ODOT workers.

One garage employee told the inspector general's office that, after years of trying unsuccessfully to get hired by ODOT, the employee received a phone call in 2007 from Abdalla, who asked the prospective hire to come to his restaurant, Abdalla's Steak House, in Stratton. The employee said Abdalla gave the employee an ODOT job application and the employee filled out the application at the restaurant, the report stated. The employee was hired by ODOT shortly thereafter, the report stated.

Abdalla had no comment on the inspector general's report.

Another county garage employee told the inspector general's office that Abdalla summoned the employee to his steakhouse in 2008 to interview for an ODOT job. Abdalla asked questions about the employee's voting record, including whether the employee was a loyal Democrat, the report stated. The employee was hired by ODOT.

The inspector general's report noted that ODOT is one of the state's largest agencies and employs hundreds of workers in all 88 counties, and ODOT has a long history of cronyism under Democratic and Republican administrations.

"It is a long and accepted practice by both parties that the party in power often will give preference in hiring to workers who are politically and ideologically aligned with the administration that holds office," the report stated.

ODOT this year issued a new hiring policy that involves human resource professionals, who participates in the recruitment and hiring of ODOT workers, Varner said.

Varner said the allegations in the inspector general's report of Abdalla's involvement in the hiring of ODOT workers preceded the new policy.

(Law can be contacted at mlaw@heraldstaronline.com.)

 
 

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