July 26, 2014

Elyria
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Vets board alleges misconduct

ELYRIA TWP.—Don Bates, the suspended executive director of the Lorain County Veterans Service Commission, has been accused of 19 counts of misconduct ranging from allegedly taking cash from veterans groups in exchange for services to failing to properly staff the office while he and other employees attended training in Atlantic City.

The retired U.S. Air Force serviceman was fired Aug. 1 by the five-member Veterans Service Commission, but his termination was quickly rescinded because in addition to his duties as executive director he also is a service officer, which means he can only be fired for cause. Bates is currently on paid leave.

Bob Childers, the commission’s chairman, who has taken over the day-to-day operations of the agency in Bates’ absence, originally said he and his fellow board members wanted to take Veterans Services in a different direction but later acknowledged that he believed there were problems with how Bates ran the office.

Childers has repeatedly declined to discuss the nature of the issues the commission has with Bates, who has vehemently denied wrongdoing. Childers declined additional comment Wednesday.

But the allegations were spelled out in the notice sent to Bates notifying him of a predisciplinary hearing scheduled for Friday.

Many of the allegations deal with compensatory time, better known as comp time, which is time off given in lieu of overtime pay.

According to the documents, on numerous occasions Bates improperly accepted cash “honoraria” from Veterans of Foreign Wars posts for providing them information and services. The documents accused Bates of taking the money “for personal gain.”

On those same dates, which aren’t specified in the documents, Bates allegedly awarded himself comp time and charged the commission for mileage.

He also allegedly improperly designated Veterans Services employees as salaried employees, which altered whether or not they were eligible for overtime. Bates is accused of improperly awarding comp time instead of paying overtime to his employees and allegedly failed to maintain auditable records of comp time, sick time, vacation days and when workers were on duty.

In one instance, Bates allegedly gave one or more employees 30 to 45 hours of comp time as compensation for an eight-hour Internet training course in March. In another case, Bates is accused of failing to correctly record an employees’ attendance and 46 hours of leave weren’t deducted from her bank of time off.

When confronted about the comp time irregularities, Bates reacted “by throwing a temper tantrum,” according to the documents.

That incident isn’t the only act of insubordination Bates is accused of committing.

The documents said Bates was told not to have any contact with the Lorain County commissioners, with whom he has previously clashed with over budgetary and other issues, but on July 3 he called the commissioners to ask them to build a new garage for Veterans Services vehicles.

He also allegedly refused a direct order from Childers on July 25 to give him a computer password.

Bates stands accused of failing to arrange adequate staffing to run the office while he and his staff were at a June training course in Atlantic City. The same problem allegedly cropped up on three separate days in May, “during which time numerous requests for assistance came in from county military veterans.”

The documents also said Bates spent $924.24 to rent a car at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport to drive to Atlantic City. The rental was described as “poor stewardship of government funds.”

Bates also is accused of giving away computers belonging to the county and, after being fired, erasing data and emails from his county computer.

The documents also accuse Bates of telling the county commissioners that the Veterans Services Commission wasn’t going to participate in an event even through he never told his superiors about it and they never had a chance to make the decision. He also allegedly failed to notify the Veterans Service Commission about mandated training.

In addition to those allegations, Bates is accused of failing to respond to a July 6 call from the Elyria Public Library, which wanted to put on a program for veterans on benefits they were entitled to. He also allegedly failed to pay nearly $50,000 to the Disable American Veterans to purchase two vans earlier this year.

Matt Dooley, Bates’ attorney, said Wednesday his client has been largely in the dark about the nature of the allegations against him for months. He said he will ask for the predisciplinary hearing to be pushed back so he and Bates can review the accusations.

“The commission has lodged some very serious charges that are a complete surprise to Mr. Bates,” Dooley said.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.