Harford auditor recommends former county HR director repay Harvard program expenses

The Harford County auditor has recommended that former Human Resources Director Scott Gibson reimburse the county to the tune of more than $18,000 to cover the cost of tuition county officials paid for Gibson to attend a program at Harvard University and for three weeks of leave.

The auditor's office has prepared a draft report of its recommendations, and Auditor Chrystal Brooks shared her initial findings with the members of the Harford County Council during the council's most recent legislative session on Oct. 15.

Brooks' report, which has not been made public, touched off considerable back and forth between the council and the administration of Harford County Executive David Craig, with Gibson, who left county employment earlier this month, seemingly caught in the middle.

"Our recommendation was that Mr. Gibson should have to repay those expenses," Brooks told council members. "The total [tuition] cost would have been $11,800 and then 120 hours of leave for the weeks that he was out of the office."

The auditor's report is a draft, however, and officials in the administration said they were in the process of preparing an agreement to determine how much money Gibson will pay back and when.

Brooks said Gibson owed $18,455.97; his final paycheck was issued Oct. 15, and the auditor noted that $2,000 had been withheld "at the request of Mr. Gibson."

According to her calculations, he still owed $16,455.97, but that's not the way the administration is viewing the situation, and the sticking point appears to be not the tuition, as much as the leave reimbursement that Brooks believes is also due to the county.

Gibson worked for Harford County for seven years before he resigned effective Oct. 1 to work as vice president of human resources for the Melwood nonprofit organization.

He attended the Harvard program, which was offered for local government leaders on the university's Cambridge, Mass., campus through its John F. Kennedy School of Government, for three weeks in July.

Ben Lloyd, deputy chief of staff for the county executive, told The Aegis in July that the cost of Gibson's attendance would be covered through the Department of Human Resources' training budget.

Gibson's county salary was $113,000 a year.

Brooks told the council that the tuition expenses should have been covered through the county's educational assistance and tuition reimbursement program.

Nancy Giorno, Craig's legislative liaison, told council members that the county executive has a copy of the draft auditor's report and that staffers in the county's legal department were putting together an agreement with Gibson.

"Wherein they will have the parameters of the amount of money that they expect Mr. Gibson to repay and the time within which he is going to do that," Giorno explained. "As soon as that document is finished, sent and countersigned by Mr. Gibson, I would be happy to make a copy for each of you."

Council President Billy Boniface asked why administration officials did not just reduce Gibson's final check "by the amount that's in question."

"Under the FSLA [Fair Labor Standards Act] only the employee can authorize us to take anything out of his salary other than the standard federal regulations, and I can't say any more on that," Giorno responded.

Boniface strenuously objected.

"Leaders change the rules for the guys at the top," he protested. "You've got all this labor force that haven't received any increase in wages for how many years, all these teachers out here and we go off and we do something like this."

Giorno said the agreement should cover what Gibson still owed, but she stressed several times she could not comment further until it was completed.

"If a company, or a county, thinks that an employee owes them X number of dollars they can attach that last pay and let that employee come after us instead of the reverse," Councilman Dion Guthrie said. "Now we've got the reverse; we've got to go after him and that's really disappointing."

Guthrie also asked how the council could "go after what we think he owes us" if they are not satisfied with the agreement with Gibson.

"We'll have to address that if the county executive doesn't," Boniface said.

Brooks said earlier this week that the county personnel policy requires the repayment of any tuition paid by the county if an employee leaves in the ensuing two years. The auditor also said she was waiting an administration response/rebuttal to her report, at which point it will be made public.

But, administration sources say Brooks has misinterpreted the policy. It is their belief Gibson's tuition was a "professional development expense" and not tuition reimbursement and that Gibson never signed an agreement to repay the money, as the tuition program, which hasn't been used in years, required. The administration has also rejected the auditor's recommendation that he pay the county an additional $6,200 for the time he missed while at Harvard.

An agreement has since been worked out with and signed by Gibson, sources said, in which he will repay the $9,800 balance for the Harvard tuition – with the $2,000 previously withheld making up the difference. The $9,800 is to be paid in monthly installments without interest starting next month through February.

In the agreement, Gibson also releases the county from any additional financial claims, including but not limited to his paid leave while attending the Harvard program.

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