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Official: Fire Teen Court's director

An investigation yields a list of problems, including the existence of an unauthorized petty cash fund.

By CATHERINE E. SHOICET
Published January 13, 2006


A county official has recommended the firing of the Teen Court program director, claiming an investigation revealed improper accounting practices, including the keeping of an unauthorized petty cash fund that might have contained more than $1,000.

In a letter to Teen Court director Barbara J. Hinkle this week, director of Human Resources Randy Petitt said her supervisor had recommended termination due to a "pattern of misconduct," including a "failure to follow procedures concerning absences, failure to properly account for monies brought into the program, misrepresentation to the Court concerning the disposition of a case and failure to follow procedures by telling your staff to not cooperate with an auditor."

Hinkle could not be reached for comment Thursday. In a meeting Wednesday with Petitt and Community Services director Brad Thorpe, she will have the opportunity to present evidence and respond to the findings of the county's investigation.

Thorpe will have up to five days after the meeting to decide Hinkle's fate.

Hinkle has been on paid administrative leave since Dec. 19 as county and sheriff's officials investigated the Teen Court program.

In a seven-page memo released this week, Petitt outlined findings from a search of Hinkle's office and interviews with past and present Teen Court employees.

He wrote that several staff members indicated in interviews that Hinkle kept a petty cash fund in the her desk. On Dec. 14, Petitt wrote, Hinkle directed staffers not to disclose the existence of the fund to auditors.

During a search of Hinkle's desk on Dec. 19, Petitt wrote that county officials and a sheriff's detective found a tin containing $1.90 in change and a number of receipts. They also found four envelopes marked with individuals' names, each containing $25.

Receipts in the tin totaled $755.56 and were for items including office supplies, cakes and coffee.

Petitt said large amounts of money may be unaccounted for.

"To date there is no evidence of any cash deposit made into any Teen Court accounts since January 2004," Petitt wrote.

Normally, Petitt said, money paid to the court for drug tests and other services should be deposited into an account through the County Clerk's Office.

Petitt's report also included a statement from Hinkle to county officials through her attorney: "Ms. Hinkle admits no wrongdoing. The Petty Cash account was established prior to her becoming the Director and that she was just continuing the status quo concerning not discussing this account with anyone. She will make no comment concerning any mishandling of public funds."

Former Teen Court director Thomas Moore said in an interview that he had established the petty cash fund with $50 of his own money and donations from police officers, attorneys and parents, according to the report.

Petitt said Thursday that officials are still working to complete an audit of cases.

"We're still in the process of completing the audit, and to give you an idea of how intense this is, we have to go through every case file and we have to go through every accounting through the clerk's office," Petitt said Thursday.

Sheriff's spokeswoman Gail Tierney said Thursday that the county had not yet turned over its findings.

Once they have that information, the Sheriff's Office will review the case and might pass it on to the State Attorney's Office if detectives identify anything of a criminal nature, she said.

Teen Court is a 9-year-old diversionary program for low-level juvenile offenders. Rather than heading straight into the criminal justice system, the teens are prosecuted and defended by other teenagers and must abide by the judgment of a jury of teens. Community service is a common punishment.

About six months ago control of the program was transferred to the county's Community Services division, Thorpe said. Hinkle's immediate supervisor is Cathy Pearson, director of Community Support Services.

Thorpe said Pearson is serving as the program's interim director pending the completion of the investigation.

Petitt said Thursday that Hinkle was still on paid leave and would remain so until the investigation was finished.

Hinkle has served as the program's director since February.

Before that, she was the program's assistant director.

In employee evaluations from 2002 to 2004, Hinkle received high ratings from Moore, who was her supervisor.

He noted Hinkle's help in securing grants and garnering increased media exposure for the program.

In a 2004 evaluation, Moore wrote that Hinkle "performs well above expected standards," "seeks ideas and answers outside the box" and "consistently acts in the best interests of both the county and the Teen Court program."

Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at cshoichet@sptimes.com or 860-7309.

[Last modified January 13, 2006, 01:45:18]


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