News 12 investigation turns up questionable Rec and Parks hires

By: Jonathan Martin
By: Jonathan Martin

August 2, 2006

The man in charge of employment for Augusta admits problems with a major department.

But questions to the man at the top provide few answers.

Only on 12, we look deeper into claims of favoritism and find this isn't the first time Recreation and Parks director Tom Beck has been in hot water.

On August 2, even more employees came to city leaders claiming Beck is violating the city's hiring policies.

News 12's Jonathan Martin has spent weeks digging deeper into these claims.

Claims of unfair hiring and promotional practices have swirled around the recreation department for years.

But now, News 12 has information that leaves city leaders shaking their heads and another department admitting they dropped the ball.

Augusta's Human Resources director Robbie Burns admits something's wrong.

"I can't tell you how it happened, but it was a mistake," Burns says--the mistake being what some city leaders are calling "apparent unfair hiring practices" in Augusta's Recreation and Parks Department.

News 12 found several questionable hires. For example, in May of 2005, the city put out a notice looking for an athletic coordinator. The notice said a degree in a related field was required. But according to records from HR, someone with no degree, who listed two years at Augusta State on his resume, got the job.

Burns admits applicants with degrees were passed up for the position.

In June 2005, Tom Beck hired a new center director at Diamond Lakes. Some employees say the position was never advertised. When we asked HR and the Recreation and Parks Department for proof of advertisement, they couldn't provide it.

"It doesn't appear that he should have been able to get into the position if it was not advertised yet, so that's a mistake on someone's end," Burns says.

While HR takes some responsibility for not double-checking recommendations, Tom Beck maintains he's done nothing wrong.

But some employees say he's told them it's his privilege to waive requirements in order to hire his friends.

"He'll tell you to your face, he's a director and give them whatever he wants," says 25-year Recreation and Parks employee Melinda Moody.

News 12 tried to ask Beck about the allegations. He didn't want to comment, but when we asked him, "You've been accused of hiring your friends to positions, is that accurate, is that true?" he did reply, "It's not accurate."

Records show this isn't the first time Beck has come under fire. Minutes from a September 2000 Commission meeting show city leaders reprimanded him for similar offenses.

While Beck denies being unfair, some employees and city leaders say he continues to disregard city policy that states it shall be the practice to promote from within the government. Documents show that in April 2004, Beck hired an athletic supervisor outside of the government.

On the man's application, he lists Tom Beck as a personal reference, claiming he's known him for ten years.

Some city leaders say there were qualified applicants within the department with years of experience who were passed over. HR says they were not aware of the promotion.

We showed all of our information to city leaders.

"It makes me wonder where the controls are in our government," said commissioner Joe Bowles.

"You can't just hire your friends," said commissioner Marion Williams. "Your friends have to meet the guidelines. Your friends have to get in line like everybody else."

"Obviously it was a mistake on both ends," said HR director Burns.

And it's a mistake Commissioner Bowles says may cost some their jobs--jobs they perhaps never should have had.

"You're saying it's okay for some people to advance without qualifications. But you can't. It sets a bad example," he said.

Commissioners are in the middle of their own investigation, but we can tell you the Human Resources Department has just implemented a new policy. Now, if a job requires a degree, applicants must show proof before they're hired.

Anytime requirements for a job at the city are waived, the decision has to go all the way up the chain and be approved by commissioners.

That can be problematic, as proven by the months-long ordeal to hire Howard Willis as fire chief when he didn't have a degree.

Mailing Address: P.O. Box 1212 Augusta, GA 30903 Main Telephone: (803) 278-1212 Newsroom: (803) 278-3111 Fax: (803) 442-4561
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