ELLSWORTH, Maine — A former corrections officer at Hancock County Jail has been accused of stealing thousands of dollars from the county.

Janine Gardner, 52, of Ellsworth, allegedly falsified her time sheets at the jail so that she ended up being paid more than $10,000 for hours she did not work, according to Hancock County District Attorney Michael Povich.

“The amount is in the neighborhood of $14,000,” Povich said Wednesday.

The prosecutor said Gardner is believed to have started falsifying her overtime claims in September 2005. The alleged criminal activity came to light in October, he said. Gardner has since resigned from her job after being suspending during the investigation, according to county officials.

Povich said Gardner was summoned Nov. 30 by Detective Steve McFarland of the District Attorney’s Office on a charge of Class B theft. If convicted of a Class B crime, Gardner could face up to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $20,000.

Povich said Gardner is scheduled to appear in Hancock County Superior Court to answer to the charge on Jan. 8, 2010.

The allegations against Gardner have drawn attention to another issue that has raised the ire of some county employees. Some are upset about a new time card system, implemented earlier this year, which requires most county employees to have their picture taken as they clock in and out for the day.

Sheriff William Clark said Thursday that the new system, called Time Trak, would not have prevented the type of illegal behavior that Gardner is accused of committing. But he said there is a sense the system was adopted by commissioners and the county’s financial administrators in part because they suspected there might be more widespread time card irregularities.

Clark said the Time Trak system itself is not objectionable. What bothers him and other county department heads, he said, is the manner in which the system has been justified and explained by commissioners and Philip Roy, the county’s chief financial officer.

The sheriff said his understanding earlier this year, when the system was proposed, was that it initially would be required only of jail employees.

“If they had only put cameras in the jail, I would have put black tape over it,” Clark said. “I’m not going to have my employees singled out.”

A Nov. 13 memo from commissioners and Roy to department heads aggravated the feelings among some employees about having to be photographed whenever they came to work or left.

“Employees who fail to have their picture captured and/or punch in or out will not be paid for that specific day,” the memo states in bold type.

According to Clark, the memo is an example of a “mean-spirited attitude” the commissioners and Roy have toward county employees. He said it demonstrates a lack of trust of others who work for the county.

“It’s been presented in a way that it really turns off the employees,” Clark said. “It’s basically just irritating the employees.”

But Percy “Joe” Brown, chairman of the commissioners, said Thursday the memo was sent out as a way to address concerns raised by Gardner’s alleged behavior. Commissioners could not explain why they sent out the memo because of the sensitive nature of the ongoing investigation of Gardner, he said, but they were obliged to do what they could to make sure no falsified timekeeping was occurring.

The reason commissioners and the financial department decided to adopt the system was to streamline the county’s payroll system, Brown said. Some technical bugs in the system remain to be worked out, he said, but it is designed to decrease paperwork the department heads have to do each pay period.

Brown said there are good employees working in every county department and that the allegations against Gardner are upsetting to everyone who works for the county. But the only reason commissioners decided to implement the new time card system, before the allegations against Gardner came to light, was to reduce the county’s payroll costs, he said.

“We didn’t do it to be mean-spirited,” Brown said. “It was nothing against the employees. If [the memo] insulted someone, I’m sorry.”



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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....