Kansas audit criticizes head of state agency for taking nearly 125 days worth of unpaid time off

09/20/2012 3:57 PM

09/20/2012 3:59 PM

TOPEKA – The man tasked with overseeing the tiny state agency that oversees veterinarians and their clinics took nearly 125 days worth of unpaid time off during a seven-month period in 2010 and 2011 and worked a side job, a move a state audit released Thursday deemed inappropriate.

With the director out, the agency lacked oversight to avoid fraud and inspections didn’t meet all regulations designed to make sure veterinarians use humane methods to minimize animal pain, the audit reported.

“During the director’s furlough, agency staff were mostly unsupervised, which made this already risky situation worse,” the audit said.

But it found no evidence of fraud or serious regulatory problems.

Board of Veterinary Examiners Executive Director Dirk Hanson said his unpaid time off — intended as a money-saving measure — came when the agency had no pending complaints or legislative action, and he said it never posed a risk to animal safety in Kansas.

That led Rep. Peggy Mast, R-Emporia, to suggest the state should look into whether it needs the full-time position.

Hanson said his side job didn’t pay as well, and the audit says he got $33,000 less than he would have if he had worked full time.

Hanson also noted that he cut his own salary to increase what his two employees – an inspector and an administrative assistant – earn. The audit shows his salary shrank from $69,700 to $60,100 while his inspector got a boost from $36,700 to $40,000 and his assistant’s salary increased from $28,100 to $34,000.

“I think this was a win-win opportunity,” Hanson said. “This was an opportunity to do more with less for a short period of time, which we accomplished.”

The governor-appointed, seven-member board approved Hanson’s furlough time to save money after the Legislature swept $64,000 from the agency in 2009. But auditors said that wasn’t necessary.

The audit also said that veterinary inspections should happen during unannounced visits.

But the state’s sole inspector currently tells veterinarians in advance of their inspections, giving business owners time to prepare and decreasing the likelihood of seeing how the faculties normally operate, the audit says.

Out of 75 inspections reviewed in the audit, only two noted problems – dirty windows and a defective sign.

“The lack of substantive findings may indicate the inspections are conducted hastily,” the audit says.

The state’s only inspector, Larry O’Hara, conducts 300 to 400 inspections each year across the state. The inspector also must help the director and lawyers with about 50 complaint investigations a year.

Hanson said later that the inspector tells veterinarians only week he’s planning to come in order to avoid showing up when workers aren’t there or the office is closed.

“It’s in the interest of citizens to keep government cost down and at least find out if somebody’s going to be there,” he said.

Hanson said many inspections happen quickly. In places like Wichita, facilities are close together and can be audited within an hour if no problems are found and there’s no history of problems.

Every facility is audited by the agency to assure it complies with minimum standards and promote public safety, he said.

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