So Many Questions So Few Answers!
One of the best parts of my job is that I get to ask lots
of questions. And because of the nature of my press
credentials, I am often in a position to get answers to
But let me start with a question for you.
What do you call it when a colleague at work
decides to add a few hundred dollars to someone
elses paycheck every week without permission from
When I was growing up, my parents always taught me that
taking things that do not belong to you (even if it is
for someone else) was called stealing, theft, or
But when public employees in Lawrence (Payroll Clerk Joe
Powieza and DPW Clerk Rhonda Lavin) take the
taxpayers money without permission, well, the
Eagle-Tribune and the Sullivan administration call it a
Now let me ask you this. What do you think would happen
to you if you got caught at work accepting a pay raise
that was not authorized? What would happen if you were
the one who put your colleagues pay raise through
the system without permission? If your company is worth
working for, you would be fired and the police would
probably be notified so you could answer for your ...
But not if you work for the city of Lawrence!
No, no! In Lawrence, what happens is this: the personnel
director looks into the matter and then
recommends that someone be fired. But for some reason, he
changes his recommendation, and a three-day suspension is
handed out to the payroll clerk while the clerk who
received the illegal raise receives no reprimand at all.
The police are never called, nobody is ever fired, and
(get this!) when the city tries to recoup the $5,000 plus
that was taken (again, without authorization), a union
grievance is filed to stop collection from her paycheck.
Get comfortable, kids, I am just warming up here.
Want to hear the best part?
Since his three-day suspension, Joe Poweiza has not
returned to work as the payroll clerk. He has been out on
medical leave. Guess ... go ahead, just guess who the
city of Lawrence put in charge of his payroll duties
while Poweiza is on leave?
Thats right, Rhonda Lavin, the woman who got a
little bonus in her check and never bothered to tell
anyone, the woman who filed a grievance to stop the city
from taking back some of the money from her paycheck.
You cant make this stuff up!
Heres another question: shouldnt people who
take money that doesnt belong to them at the very
least have to pay it back immediately? Especially the
And just how did all this play out under the noses of
supervisors in DPW and payroll? How did it get by those
who were suppose to sign off on weekly payroll sheets?
These supervisors apparently let more than $5,000 slip
through the citys fingers for months, unnoticed
until some brave soul spoke up, and yet the harshest
action taken was a three-day suspension for a payroll
Are you kidding me?
I am sure you have some questions now, too. But my
next question is this: does everyone else in City Hall
escape blame and/or responsibility for this? And has it
happened in other departments? Or is this just isolated
to a couple of city departments out of control in a
bastion of high professional standards?
Could this still be happening? I mean, if two lowly
clerks can get away with more than $5,000 of the
taxpayers money without anyone noticing for months, just
imagine what kind of damage a couple of supervisors can
do in a year.
And since we know most of the detailed facts of what
happened with a payroll check, maybe the next question to
ask is why the personnel director changed his
recommendation? Why was almost everyone at every level of
responsibility on this matter making excuses for the
people involved and tripping over themself to protect
these two lowly clerks?
Surely the unions in City Hall cant be that
And why was this covered up for more than four weeks,
only to be leaked to the Eagle-Tribune with a no
big deal spin on the story less than 24 hours after
The Valley Patriot filed freedom of information requests
for payroll records, phone bills and emails?
Was it to prevent exposing the incompetence of those who
allowed this to happen? Or was it to prevent exposing
that it wasnt incompetence at all?
And when The Valley Patriot spoke to the city attorney
about our freedom of information requests, why were we
initially told that the documentation would not be
provided? Why were we purposely discouraged from pursuing
the story? And why are we still not getting what we asked
dont answer out loud, people will
think you are crazy.
You want more questions? I have plenty. Why didnt
anyone in DPW notice that an employee was illegally
receiving more money in her paycheck than she was
supposed to? Or maybe they did, but wouldnt that
make it worse? Why didnt anyone in DPW notice the
salary change when signing the weekly payroll sheets?
Again, maybe someone did, but that would raise more
Who signed those DPW weekly payroll sheets? Why
didnt Rhonda Lavin, the alleged innocent party
here, notify her supervisors of the increased payment in
her checks? Or did she tell someone and get told not to
I told you at the beginning of my column that I love to
ask questions, but I have to confess I was holding back.
What I love even more is getting the answers to those
questions and reporting them to you.
I can promise you this. The Valley Patriot is going to
keep doing just that: asking questions and reporting the
answers to you. No matter what the truth is, no matter
who it involves, there will be no sacred cows. Next
Month: So Many Questions Part 2!
Tom Duggan is the president of Valley
Patriot, Inc., is a former member of the Lawrence School
Committee, and hosts the Paying Attention! Radio Program
on WCAP, 980AM, every Saturday afternoon from noon-2pm.
You can email your comments to Tdugjr@aol.com
*Send your questions comments to ValleyPatriot@aol.com
The August, 2006 Edition
of the Valley Patriot
The Valley Patriot is a Monthly
All Contents (C) 2006, Valley Patriot, Inc.
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