Palm Beach County’s Office of Inspector General fielded 536 contacts — 399 phone calls and 137 pieces of written correspondence — in the last six months, with 84 of those alleging wrongdoing, Inspector General John A. Carey said Thursday.
Of the 84, the office started investigations on three and referring a fourth to contract oversight, Carey said in his 6-month update to the county’s Inspector General Committee. The panel is comprised of the board of the county’s Commission on Ethics, plus State Attorney Dave Aronberg and Public Defender Carey Haughwout.
Carey said agencies targeted accepted each of the 16 recommendations his office made in the cases it investigated.
Carey said his office currently has nine open investigations. He did not elaborate.
Since the office was formed in 2010, Carey said, its staff of 22 has handled nearly 9,000 phone and written contacts.
An independent consultant hired by Palm Tran has “substantiated” a Palm Beach County Inspector General report detailing manipulation of on-time performance of Palm Tran Connection,, Inspector General John A. Carey told his agency’s executive committee Thursday at its semi-annual meeting.
Carey’s 103-page March 31 report outlined what it called a systematic doctoring of software at the Palm Tran subsidiary that provides call-ahead bus service for the elderly, disabled and ill. It says managers altered, or directed dispatchers to alter, between 21,000 and 46,000 reports.
Carey told The Palm Beach Post after Thursday’s meeting that he met recently with Rishel and the consultant “was not completed with his work but my discussions with him seemed to substantiate the information that we found.”
But Forbes said late Thursday that he spoke with Rishel, who told him that he has not spoken to Carey.
Palm Tran Connection managers altered, or directed dispatchers to alter, between 21,000 and 46,000 reports, making them “inaccurate and inflated” and allowing the agency to reach a goal of a 95 percent on-time record in the past 14 months, the Palm Beach County Inspector General said Thursday.
“No one admitted, ‘we are doing this in order to meet the 95 percent goal,’” Inspector General John Carey said Thursday. But, he said, “that is a logical conclusion that people could bring.”
Clinton Forbes, who came on as Palm Tran director in November, told The Palm Beach Post Thursday he plans to hire an outside entity to conduct an investigation for him.
“If we find that any employee manipulated the numbers, or cooked the books, there will be severe administrative action,” Forbes said.
Proper time records could have led to penalties to contractors of as much as $1.26 million, the 100-plus page report by Carey’s office said. It did find more than 100 cases where contractors were penalized $60 per occurrence, but Carey said, “We believe there were obviously a lot more occasions.”
Forbes said the $1.26 million estimate is wrong because Palm Tran Connection doesn’t penalize for tardiness, only for failed pickups.
The report said management of the county bus service for the elderly and disabled “disagreed with our finding” but did concur with the Inspector General’s nine recommendations. They include “take appropriate personnel action.” Forbes said Thursday that Ron Jones remains the Palm Tran Connection director.
The report says Jones admitted ordering computer audit programs to be turned off, allowing people to go back and change previous reporting without any audit trail. The summary said Jones told investigators in September that he’d stopped, but that a Connection staffer came forward in February to say that the misdirection was continuing.
Forbes told The Post, and the ageny said in remarks included in the Inspector General’s report, Palm Tran said there are several reasons that on-time performances are changed after the fact.
But, Carey said Thursday, “why was it that when we brought it to their attention, it went down below that 95 percent, and it’s never been there again?”