After less than 90 days on the job, interim Jackson County Sheriff Darryl Forte has uncovered a multitude of problems inside the department that range from allegations of no-show employees to a lax approach to county-issued firearms.
The county’s top law enforcement officer said that at least two people on his department’s payroll had not been seen at the office in years.
“Nobody can tell me where they sat or what they did, but they were accepting paychecks every two weeks,” Forte said.
Both resigned almost immediately after Forte was named interim sheriff in May.
Forte also said former Sheriff Mike Sharp failed to return his county-issued firearm after he resigned under a cloud of scandal in April. Sharp quit after The Star detailed an alleged affair and financial relationship involving the former sheriff and an employee. His departure came amid a rash of troubling revelations related to the alleged affair, the use of taxpayer dollars and what has been described as a hostile work environment.
Forte says he’s discovered additional serious issues since taking the job, including the two employees whose actual duties appeared to be a mystery.
Sharp confirmed to The Star that he hired Jeff Jones and John Beaudoin as part-time county employees earning $10 per hour for 20 hours of work per week.
“None of those guys got paid a lot of money,” Sharp said. “No one got rich.”
But did the two collect taxpayer money for work they did not perform? The county can’t afford to pay an estimated total of $122,000 over time for employees who hadn’t set foot in the office in recent memory.
Beaudoin worked remotely as a public information officer from Aug. 24, 2015 to May 30 this year. He said he stands by his work.
“I was on-call 24/7. I had no reason to come into the office,” said Beaudoin, a former editor and publisher of the Lee’s Summit Journal, which is owned by The Kansas City Star.
For his part, Jones worked as a personal assistant for Sharp from Jan. 1, 2009 until April 3, 2012, and from Jan. 2, 2013 until May this year. But department employees rarely saw him in the office after Sharp’s first term.
Sharp said he ordered Jones to work remotely; Jones briefly left the sheriff’s department to work on Sharp’s campaign but returned after Sharp was re-elected for a second term..
Jones didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.
The arrangement should be cause for concern. It remains unclear what, exactly, Jones did to earn his pay. What is clear is that Jones had long been absent from the office.
While Sharp claimed that Jones was working remotely, Jones’ county email account wasn’t active, Jackson County officials said. If Jones had in fact been doing county business, he should have been using his Jackson County email address.
Forte said he hasn’t been able to find evidence that Jones or Beaudoin was doing county work. And when he queried other employees in the department, no one could tell him what the two men were being paid to do, Forte said.
Allegations of employees being paid with Jackson County tax dollars without doing the jobs they were hired for should be investigated immediately. Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway should delve deeper into these questions as part of her pending audit of the county’s books. An independent criminal investigation also may be warranted.
“We need to sort that out,” Forte said.
The fact that the county appeared to have lost track of Sharp’s firearm is alarming as well, raising questions about the protocols in place for county-issued weapons. How many other former deputies failed to return their firearms?
“No one asked me for the gun, and I never gave it a second thought until you asked about it,” Sharp told The Star.
Forte, who is a candidate to fill the rest of Sharp’s unexpired term, faces a steep challenge in stabilizing a department in disarray. A change of culture and new policies focused on improved accountability and oversight will be essential to restoring the confidence of employees and taxpayers.
“We have a lot of professional dedicated and inspired people in the sheriff’s department,” Forte said. “But there are a lot of things we need to clean up.”