The Division of Legislative Audit yesterday issued a report detailing misuse of travel funds and leave time by Leon Jones, director of the state Department of Labor.
Jones told legislators the improper expenditures were a mistake, which he blamed on the guidance of an administrator he fired in August, the Democrat-Gazette reported. However, the former administrator, Becky Bryant, told the legislative committee that she was terminated by Jones — after 40 years of employment — exactly because she questioned his expenditures.
As director of the labor department, Jones earns an annual salary of $130,138.32. Jones was “Minority Outreach Coordinator” for Hutchinson’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign. The governor first named him as policy director before placing him over the labor department instead in Jan. 2015, soon after taking office.
Auditors found Jones “did not properly record leave usage … on his timesheet” based on a review of his calendar and emails. Jones recorded 120 hours of annual leave and 32 hours of sick leave, but auditors determined he’d actually taken 208 hours of annual leave and 60 hours of sick leave.
The auditors also found five out-of-state trips in 2015 and 2016 for questionable purposes, which cost a total of $5,918. Some of those expenses were flatly impermissible — meals bought while attending conferences at which meals were included, for example — and Jones said he’ll repay $666 in expenses identified for “nonbusiness purposes.”
But that’s just a portion of the overall expenditures that appear questionable. Take a $660 trip to Kissimmee, Fla. that began on Aug. 29. The audit report states that “the Director only attended one day of a four-day conference. According tot he Director, his schedule only allowed for one day of attendance, and he went to specifically meet with ‘certain people.’ The names of these individuals were not provided, and the business purpose for meeting with them was not documented.”
Or a $773 trip to Washington, D.C. and Richmond, Va. for “meetings with various officials regarding labor issues.” The auditors found that “over a six-day period, only three one-hour meetings occurred, two of which were scheduled two days prior to the Director’s departure, giving the appearance that the Director scheduled a personal trip and subsequently scheduled business-related meetings.”
The report states that the governor has been informed of the results of the audit and that from now on, “the director will obtain written approval from the Governor’s Office before confirming any out-of-state travel.”
The labor department is responsible for state enforcement of labor standards, such as overtime and minimum wage requirements, child labor laws and OSHA.