by Matt Rosenberg November 26th, 2013
Concluding a state oversight review that began with an auditor’s report last year, the Washington Executive Ethics Board has reached civil settlements with two University of Washington fire alarm control technician supervisors for allegations they spent hours surfing the Internet while on duty, including while collecting overtime pay. Each agreeing in signed “stipulation” settlement documents to $2,500 in fines and additional restitution were Don Makena and Stan Ross. In restitution Makena will also pay $5,150 and Ross another $1,323. Public records show actual total salary and overtime paid to Makena was $106,682 in 2011 and $94,919 in 2012; while Ross earned total pay of $89,930 in 2011 and $80,836 in 2012. Both belong to the labor union the Washington Federation of State Employees. They remain in their jobs but could be discharged if they make any other ethics missteps, said a university spokesman.
Both agreed in the signed documents that there was enough evidence for the ethics board to conclude they had each violated the state Ethics in Public Service Act, and that a settlement was in their interest and the state’s. According to the findings of fact in the settlement agreement between the ethics board and Makena, over a 14-month period in 2010 and 2011 he spent at least 109 hours “visiting sites on his state computer that were not job-related, including 471 visits to ESPN sites, as well as repeat visits to Yahoo mail, YouTube, and classmates.com. The settlement papers for Ross indicate that over a 14-month stretch in 2010 and 2011 he spent at least 28 hours on personal Web surfing on his state computer including repeat visits to bing.com, hotmail.com, Foxsports, match.com and Wendy’s School of Dance.
Both workers had their own private offices and their computers were not shared with others, according to the ethics board. Their duties were similar – leading and working with other fire control technicians to help protect life, limb and property at UW through “inspection, testing servicing, programming and maintenance of the complex buildings fire alarm systems” plus giving assignments, doing quality control checks, and overseeing regular preventive maintenance.
According to his ethics board settlement, Ross’s annual base pay is $65,532, with overtime paid at a rate of $47.25 per hour. State records accessed via a database of The Olympian newspaper show that actual total salary and overtime paid to Ross was $80,836 in 2012 and $89,930 in 2011 – and to Makena, $106,682 in 2011 and $94,919 in 2012. Makena is also known by the last name “Hulse” according to the ethics board and it is under that last name that he appears in the state salary database.
“There is no question these guys misused state resources,” namely their workplace computers, said university spokesman Norm Arkans. The documented visits to non-work sites included active surfing and simply leaving their computers on non-work sites when they went out of office to perform work duties, Arkans added. Arkans said the overtime work cited in the ethics board reports was approved for the two because they are experienced and knowledgeable and were deemed better suited than outside contractors to help on a challenging project, to install a new voice-capable fire alarm system on campus.
“These are two hard working guys who are committed to their jobs, but made mistakes,” said Arkans. He added that each is protected by labor contract provisions circumscribing how disciplinary actions can occur. But Arkans added, “We’ve put them on notice that one more instance” of state ethics law missteps by either “would put at risk” his job. The University has also already taken steps to reeducate all workers across its Facilities Management divisions on exactly how to stay in compliance with state ethics law.