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Legislator says fire employees who falsify hours worked

CARSON CITY — A Las Vegas state senator called Thursday for Nevada officials to fire any contract employees who turned in false statements about the hours they worked for the state.

"We need to make sure they understand this is something we don’t tolerate," said Republican Sen. Barbara Cegavske. "We should sever ties with those who submitted false statements. I need answers."

Cegavske made her comments during a Legislative Commission meeting in which legislative auditor Paul Townsend discussed an audit released last week that found multiple irregularities in contracts the state has with 250 former and current state employees.

In one case, a contract employee billed the state for working 25 hours in a day and in another an employee was paid $350 per hour for a job that normally paid $65 an hour.

The audit also found numerous cases when employees billed the state for doing contract work at times they were supposed to be working their regular state jobs. In one case, an employee took sick leave from his regular state job so he could do contract work.

At the request of Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, Townsend turned the audit over to the state attorney general’s office for possible prosecution of contract employees. The audit did not identify the employees with state contracts, although more than half have contracts with the Department of Health and Human Services.

Townsend told Cegavske and the committee Thursday that he did not know if employees who turned in questionable time sheets were or had been fired.

Gov. Jim Gibbons agrees with Cegavske that the employees should be fired or disciplined, but first it must be shown conclusively through an attorney general investigation that they committed fraud, said Gibbons’ spokesman Daniel Burns in a phone interview.

"It is always questionable on whether you can trust an audit by the Legislature," he said. "You just can’t take a finding and accept it because this auditor says so. This process has to be examined by the attorney general."

Burns noted it was a legislative audit four years ago that led to the attorney general’s office moving to prosecute Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki over his handling of college savings trust funds when he was state treasurer. Krolicki was indicted by a grand jury, but a judge later dismissed charges against him.

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said it is important for taxpayers to know the state is following through to make sure contract excesses no longer occur. She said she will introduce legislation next year to put safeguards in place.

"We need to be perfectly accountable to the public on how we spend our tax dollars," Smith said. "We need to get it straight and show the public we can do a better job."

Smith also said that part of the problem might have been because of the decision by the Gibbons administration not to turn the contracts with employees over to the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee for review and approval.

A law passed in 2009 mandated that the committee approve contracts before they could be awarded, but Gibbons consistently has maintained the Legislative Commission is unconstitutional.

Following the passage of the law, he secured an attorney general’s opinion stating that turning executive branch contracts over to the committee for its approval violated the separation of powers doctrine.

State Budget Director Andrew Clinger said last week that he will form a task force of state agency directors and others to develop ways to better oversee contracts.

Clinger and Mike Willden, director of the Department of Health and Human Services, admitted last week that there was not proper oversight of contracts and pledged to legislators to take steps to correct that. Both have been retained by Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval, whose term of office starts in January.

Clinger did not immediately respond Thursday to questions about whether some contract employees have been fired.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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