Audit: former Alexandria court secretary billed for hours she didn’t work for years

Marcus Wolf

Watertown Daily Times

Oct 24, 2018

ALEXANDRIA — A state Comptroller’s Office audit released Tuesday found that the former Alexandria Town Court secretary, who was fired in June, billed the town for hours she didn’t work since April 2014.

Jaime L. Sanchez, who is suing the town to get her job back, had billed the town for hours that overlapped with time also reportedly dedicated to the town of Clayton, where she works as a part-time court clerk, or the village of Alexandria Bay, where she worked until June 2015, the audit reported.

Ms. Sanchez, who declined to comment, attributed the overlap to recording mistakes, according the audit. She also billed Clayton and Alexandria for time she spent traveling between them and worked for other employers on days she claimed sick leave from Alexandria.

Supervisor Brent H. Sweet, who called Ms. Sanchez’s actions “theft of services,” said the Town Council received the draft audit a month before it fired her, a decision made June 20.

“Town fired her was a direct result of our receiving” the audit, said Councilman Ronald G. Thomson. “Now that it’s made public, we have an obligation on behalf of the town taxpayers to recoup as much money the state comptroller has identified — as much as possible.”

The audit reported that her time sheets included 414.25 work hours that overlapped among the three employers, which cost an estimated $5,984; 123 hours of travel time between Clayton and Alexandria, costing $1,800; and 112 hours of sick leave from Alexandria for 21 occasions she was still working for other employers, which cost $1,795, all since April 3, 2014.

The former confidential secretary of the town justice also billed Alexandria 73 “call-in” hours for work outside of her normal schedule that cost the town $1,169, but she recorded no explanation for 43 of those hours and only had vague description such as “Arraignment” or “DWI,” for 30, according to the report.

Alexandria also paid Ms. Sanchez $4,576 for 298.5 work hours during 87 days, including Saturdays and Sundays, when no activity was recorded in the court’s computer system. Ms. Sanchez told the comptroller’s office she completed paperwork related to sexual and driving while intoxicated offenses, license suspension and receipts outside of normal business hours.

“Given that the court’s case files, financial records, calendars, letters and reports reside within the computer system and that the Clerk needs access to the computer system to perform most of her duties, we question whether she worked all the hours reported on her time sheets for these days,” the report stated.

The comptroller’s office encouraged the town to adopt policies that expand employee oversight and establish firm scheduling and supervisory rules.

For example, the report revealed that 63 of the 67 time sheets from Ms. Sanchez that the comptroller’s office examined showed no evidence of review or approval from the town justices, who were not aware they had to review them. The comptroller’s office encouraged the board to clearly establish time sheet responsibilities, as well as rules involving “call-in” hours.

Mr. Sweet said the town installed a time clock for court clerks and now requires justices to sign their time sheets. Councilman Michael D. Fayette has worked on new work policies for the board.

Ms. Sanchez and town justices Todd K. Gorman and David M. Cortright claim in their suit the board acted beyond its power in firing her without “the advice and consent of the town justice or justices,” as required under town law. Mr. Sweet said he was not aware of any town law that regulated the termination of court clerks.

“(Our attorney) came back to us and said with theft of services, we had the right to fire her on our own,” Mr. Sweet said.