DEERFIELD BEACH — The city’s top building official and his secretary have abruptly quit their jobs amid an ongoing Broward Sheriff’s Office investigation into thousands of dollars in improper overtime payments that he authorized for her.
James Sennello, the city’s top building official and head of the city’s building and inspections division, approved $5,780.58 in overtime pay for his secretary, Peggy Moore, for work that could not be verified, City Manager Mike Mahaney said.
Theft charges may arise from the investigation. The alleged victims are Deerfield Beach taxpayers.
Mahaney learned of the discrepancy from another high-ranking city staffer, and turned the information over to BSO, he said.
“Yes, BSO is conducting an investigation regarding overtime expenditures,” BSO public information officer Alesia Russell said.
Sennello resigned from his $96,082-a-year job on Friday, June 27. He submitted his retirement papers on Monday.
Moore, a secretary in the city’s planning and growth management department who reported directly to Sennello, resigned from her $50,218-a-year job on Monday.
Moore signed an agreement on Monday in which she will not have to admit any wrongdoing, and she agreed to repay the money to the city.
According to Moore’s repayment agreement, $3,167.41 of those repayments will come from her pending salary and vacation leave. She paid the remaining $2,613.17 via a cashier’s check.
“Ms. Peggy Moore app-roached us this morning, tendered her resignation, and offered to reimburse the City for any payroll discrepancies involving her,” Mahaney wrote in an internal memo to the city’s attorney, and human resources director, on Monday.
Phone numbers in Sennello’s personnel file are disconnected, and his new numbers are non-published. Efforts to reach him were unsuccessful.
A woman who answered the phone at Moore’s home said she would deliver a message from the South Florida Times seeking a return call with comment about the investigation, but Moore did not immediately return the call.
Sennello hired Moore on May 17, 2006, and he approved the overtime payments, according to Mahaney and city records.
Sennello was hired on Feb. 16, 1995.
After regular working hours, on holidays, and on weekends, the city’s security system requires individuals to swipe a card to gain entry into the city hall facility where Moore worked.
BSO is investigating Moore for overtime payments in more than 30 instances in which she requested and was paid overtime, even though the city’s computer system does not show she ever entered the building to work on those dates.
When city officials confronted Moore about the overtime payments this past Friday, June 27, she suggested she may have entered the building through a side door using a key, instead of using the entrance that requires a security card, according to city records.
But according to documents in the city’s investigative files, that side door was permanently closed and sealed in late 2006.
Therefore, the only way to enter the building after that time was by using the security card.
Since that time, there have been at least six instances, from October 2007 to June 1, in which Moore submitted overtime sheets.
For a total of more than 30 instances between December 2006 and June 1 in which her entry into the building could not be verified, Moore was paid $5,780.58, according to city documents.
“This was brought to my attention by the department head, Jerry Ferguson, some time last week,” Mahaney said, acknowledging that there could be more incidents of improperly logged overtime. “It was determined that there were six instances that she got paid for overtime on weekends, and what not, that we could [not] find in our security system where she was ever even in the building.”
When other city officials showed Sennello the data from the city’s computerized system on Friday, he told them he was not aware of Moore’s overtime, even though he signed and approved her time sheets and payroll documents each week.
A short time later that day, after further questioning, Sennello abruptly resigned, citing health reasons. He submitted his retirement papers on Monday.
Sennello will get his normal retirement and other benefits, which have yet to be calculated, Mahaney said.
“It’s been handed over to BSO, and our internal investigation is ongoing, so anything can happen,” Mahaney said when asked why Sennello and Moore were not terminated.
City commissioners reacted with surprise when contacted about the issue.
“I think it’s terrible because if it’s true, they were stealing from all of us, the taxpayers,” Commissioner Steve Gonot said. “I have not been briefed by the city manager, but we have prosecuted employees who stole change from our parking meters and this is a disgraceful violation of the public’s trust.”
This is the latest in a string of employee-related issues that has surfaced in the city’s workplace recently.
Earlier this year, there was an investigation of city workers who posted derogatory information on an Internet blog, to determine if those postings constituted threats. The months-long investigation was closed after it was determined the remarks were not intended as threats.
Last summer, details surfaced about 44 city workers – most of them supervisors and department heads – secretly getting thousands of dollars in extra compensation, over and above their established salary ranges for years.
City officials acknowledged the payments were never authorized or approved, but decided not to take any action in
that matter. Some officials are expressing concern about this latest issue.
“I think we need to complete our due process and see what the outcome is. For these two employees to have to resign is devastating, because they now have no jobs and it will be hard for them to find work,” Vice Mayor Sylvia Poitier said. “I don’t think there should be any criminal investigation, as long as they repay what was taken.”
Photo: Peggy Moore and James Senello