Chris Heger

Chris Heger

ROBERTSDALE, Ala. (WALA) – The board that oversees Baldwin County’s 911 system on Friday heard a report detailing late payments, improper employee withholding and other allegations that prompted the suspension of its longtime director.

The Baldwin County Emergency Communication District, as it is formally known, put Director Chris Heger and administrative assistant Janie Hamric on paid leave last month have discrepancies. The board also brought in an experienced bookkeeper to examiner the records.

On Friday, that consultant – Amy Vernor – gave her report. She told board members that she was concerned that the computer containing the system’s financial records was not backed up. That means if the computer had crashed, the system could have lost those records.

Vernor, who does the bookkeeping for a local family-owned lumber company, said she also found bills that had been paid late and improper withholding on employee paychecks. Money that was supposed to be deducted for employee retirement contributions had not been sent to the Retirement Systems of Alabama.

What’s more, Vernor reported, employee health insurance premiums that were due Feb. 1 still had not been paid by mid-March.

Vernor blamed part of the problem on the fact that the system was not fully using QuickBooks, a popular accounting software program. In some cases, she added, the system was using a handwritten receipt book. She recommended that the board permanently replace Hamric with someone who is more adept at QuickBooks and modern accounting practices. 

“I don’t know her personally,” she said. “But in order for me to recommend that something happen, there’s no legitimate reason why, when you have a fully funded budget … that bills should be paid late, why payroll liabilities should be paid laid – or not at all.”

Heger, who started as a 911 dispatcher three decades ago and worked her way up to director, could not be reached for comment. Hamric, who has been in charge of the books for nearly 10 years, also could not be reached.

The board on Friday voted to compensate Vernor for her time at a rate of $30 per hour. The board also voted to hire Deborah Smith as a consultant to implement accounting reforms.

Board attorney Mark Ryan told FOX10 News that the accounting problems appear to be the result of “inept” management, not criminal activity. The board did not take further action on Heger and Hamric on Friday. Ryan said that decision likely would come next month.

Ryan said he first learned of issues in the accounting system when the 911 system failed to comply with an order obtained by a payday loan company to garnish the wages of a system employee. He said other questions arose, prompting him to recommend that the board bring in an experienced bookkeeper.

The system has passed audits that the state conducts from time to time.

“That’s what kind of surprised us, that these sorts of things had not been reported before, even though we have had audits,” he said.

The seven-member board, appointed by the Baldwin County Commission, oversees the system. Based in Robertsdale, the 911 center fields all emergency calls from Alabama’s fastest-growing county and routes them to police, fire and rescue departments throughout the county.

The 911 call center also provides non-emergency dispatch services for a variety of smaller agencies that do not have in-house dispatchers.

Most of the system’s revenue comes from fees collected by the state’s 911 board from telecommunications companies.

This story has been updated to correct an error in Amy Vernor's quote. 

All content © 2019, WALA; Mobile, AL. (A Meredith Corporation Station). All Rights Reserved.  

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