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Drivers resign as city investigates operation of Loan-A-Box Program

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Posted at 8:19 PM, Jun 28, 2023

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — An internal investigation is underway into the city of Lexington's Division of Waste Management's Loan-A-Box program.

The program provides containers for the disposal of large amounts of debris to residents who have city waste collection services.

Four employees have resigned, and two others face disciplinary action.

In an emailed statement, Susan Straub, spokesperson for Mayor Linda Gorton, said following an investigation, "the division discovered improprieties in the operation of the program."

What 'improprieties' and further details of the investigation facts and timeline were not shared.

Questions raised over discipline

On Tuesday, The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union local 4468 said they felt drivers were left holding the bag for mismanagement.

"I feel like our drivers was made scapegoats," said President Deon Henry.

AFSCME is the largest trade union of public employees in the United States.

Henry says the union believes those who resigned are dealing with the impact of a lack of oversight in the division.

"Ain't that mysterious that it falls on the driver and not supervision," said Henry.

That didn't sit right with Henry, who claims the driver's records are spotless.

"As a union member, you got MOU rights. You got the right to representation. First of all, they never offered the five of these guys representation from the union," said Henry. "We got steps in here of discipline. It starts with coaching, counseling, verbal warning, to suspension. They never got the opportunities."

The collective bargaining agreement Henry is referring to took effect in March of this year. It says unit members are entitled to representation by a unit attorney at any disciplinary proceedings of the civil service commission involving that member. However, it reads "at the discretion of the member."

Straub added that since it was an ongoing investigation and personnel actions, no further information could be shared at this time.

Several council members declined to comment and have not discussed the investigation publicly.

However, one of those drivers shared their account of what happened. Not knowing whether criminal charges would eventually be filed, they still took the risk but asked for their identity to be kept confidential.

Resigned driver shares POV

The driver was an employee with the Division of Waste Management for eight years.

The driver said they were caught by surprise about two weeks ago and called into a room of supervisors where formal charges for dismissal were read followed by them signing a resignation letter.

The driver admits the charges for dismissal have to do with alleged private or off-the-books use and transport of the city-owned boxes.

"What we saw from our supervisor was you take boxes to this person, to whoever that may need it and dump it and that's it. And they didn't go through the city to order this dumpster so, we were like, oh, okay, so we can do this too," said the driver.

They claim they were not the first and only to transport city-owned boxes without proper channels.

They did not obtain a copy of the resignation letter, nor did they have an attorney present.

Oversight?

The 2015 internal audit reveals long-standing questions about the operation of the program and revenue collection.

It discovered seven Loan-A-Boxes missing that could not be located and no procedure in place to periodically inventory or account for the total. Auditors recommended procedures for reporting, safeguarding and confirming inventory.

That birthed a tracking system.

Director Tracey Thurman reported the Division of Waste Management was installing RFID tracking devices on all containers to track boxes from site to site and verify delivery. She said they also would use the company RouteWare to dispatch pickups and deliveries.

In an updated progress report review from the internal auditor to managers, it was observed that money was still being taken by drivers in the field, but management was performing reconciliations to verify payments and daily reservations and created a written procedure for how funds should be received.

Six years later, the Loan-A-Box driver who resigned said their truck did have RouteWare and Zonar, but they didn't use it and weren't required to. They said they received paper routes from a supervisor with addresses.

Javier Perez, vice president of the union alleges the Loan-A-Box program was without certain middle management.

"Who controls that? That is my question and the only person who can answer that is Tracey Thurman," said Perez.

The city would not share what consequences supervisors have faced or could expect to face in the future.

LEX 18 tried to find out what oversight was in place for the division and specifically the program.

We also tried to find out how much money was involved and potentially lost revenue for the city. We were told the statement is all they would share at this point.

Meanwhile, union members say the culture within the division as a whole is not good.

"I feel like we needed transparency in this division. As management, they didn't give us no transparency on what happened to our drivers," said Henry.

He says communication with division leaders has been a struggle.

"The director don't even associate with us period. We tried to go upstairs and try to talk to her, and she went out the door," said Henry. "We have locked doors that get slammed in our faces."

What's Next?

Henry says he's reached out to the mayor's office for help for current employees.

"Everybody wakes up and puts the uniform on at 2, 3 o'clock in the morning and this is something we just want answers to and they're accusing our department of all this money being lost, citizens money, and it's gonna hurt other divisions," said Henry.

In June of this year, LFUCG passed a resolution authorizing the purchase of more Zonar systems and any necessary agreement with Zonar Systems, LLC for electronic vehicle inspection reporting software, hardware and data plans. The city also authorized more RouteWare technology.

After drivers resigned, the "Pre and Post Trip Inspection Policy" was updated and posted. It says drivers won't be allowed to leave the base until the inspection is complete and after completing the driver is to dispatch "Please check my pre-trip Zonar."

"After all these years and 2015, they decided to do this now," questioned Henry.

The policy says any employee and supervisor not completing both daily inspections would be disciplined. It goes into effect on Friday.