An employee fired by the Department of Economic Security says his personnel file was altered without his permission to reflect that he retired.
Such an alteration is a felony, according to Arizona law.
Andy Hall was fired June 27 and branded an “idiot” by former DES Director Tim Jeffries after objecting to a news report shared with agency staff that Hall felt was purely political in nature. Hall, a 22-year veteran of state government who had been at the agency for nearly a decade, was given no reason for his firing, but emails obtained by the Arizona Capitol Times show Jeffries personally ordered that Hall be fired after DES Communications Director Tasya Peterson forwarded Hall’s emailed objection to Jeffries.
Hall’s personnel file initially showed that he was fired from DES. A copy of a “Personnel Action Transmittal,” or PAT form — a standard record of a state worker’s employment status — was filed and signed June 27 by Scott Lekan, then the assistant director of the Division of Aging and Adult Services within DES.
A box for “dismissal” was checked, and the record states that “Mr. Hall is being separated from State service for cause effective 6/27/2016.”
A second PAT was filed July 5, with a box checked for “retirement.”
“Mr. Hall requested to retire in leiu (sic) of dismissal and it was approved by Assistant Director Scott Lekan, effective 6-27-16,” an explanation of the form stated.
Approval for the change was signed “RC for SL.” “SL” stands for Scott Lekan, while “RC” stands for Rhonda Coates, who at the time served as deputy assistant director of the Division of Aging and Adult Services.
Since Hall’s personnel files reflect that he retired and was not fired as Jeffries clearly ordered, Hall would not be among the tally of nearly 500 employees Jeffries fired during his 21 months as the head of DES. Hall, who obtained his personnel file through a public records request and shared it with the Capitol Times, said he never asked DES to change the reason for his departure to retirement. He only learned of his so-called retirement when he first obtained a copy of his personnel file in November.
“After I was terminated, there was no need to discuss anything with DES about my retirement,” he said. “What was done with that form, for whatever reason, I had nothing to do with, no knowledge of.”
The agency did not provide any records that could explain why the change was made. Any documents that may relate to the alteration are barred by law from release without the consent of the employee or a court order, according to DES officials.
“The individuals who processed the form in question are no longer with the agency. Our human resources office is reviewing the matter thoroughly and working to promptly correct any errors,” agency officials said in a statement.
But there’s only one individual named on Hall’s altered personnel records no longer with the agency: Lekan, who could not be reached for comment.
Sue Santee and Dora Avila, both officials with human resources at DES, are listed on the PAT forms as persons “who can answer questions about this action” and remain at the agency.
Coates now serves as director of the Division of Aging and Adult Services.
A state officer responsible for a public record who alters or falsifies that record is guilty of a class 4 felony, according to state law. If someone else makes the alteration, it’s a class 6 felony.
Hall said he’s concerned other such alterations were made under Jeffries, who was forced to resign on Nov. 23 amid reports that he’s fired hundreds of state workers and used a state plane to fly to Nogales to celebrate with employees who gave up their job protections.
“Altering my files might have been part of a more systematic effort to cover scores of firing. I just don’t imagine that this is a one-off situation, I imagine it was being done systematically at someone’s direction,” Hall said.
Hall, who is 69 years old, did decide to retire after he was fired from DES, but made that decision more than a month after his DES personnel file was changed. He said he sought other work after being fired, but concluded that he would be unable to find a similar position to the management analyst job he held at DES.
Hall notified the Arizona State Retirement System of his decision to receive retirement benefits Aug. 12. Since he was fired, there was no need to notify anyone at DES.
His personnel file shows Hall was exactly the kind of employee DES would be lucky to have.
Mattie McVey Lord, who interviewed Hall for a job at DES while she served as the state’s homeless coordinator, wrote a letter in his support in 2007.
Hall was “uniquely qualified” for the analyst position, she wrote. He’d declined better paying government jobs in favor of DES; he has a passion for the homeless; he once founded an outreach shelter in Atlanta, and worked for the Women’s Street Support Center in Phoenix; he has a Ph.D. from Arizona State University’s School of Social Justice, where he wrote his dissertation on “Listening to the Voiceless.”
Hall’s references “all gave glowing recommendations,” McVey wrote, later adding that those references “reiterated that Andy is kind, compassionate, deliberate, reliable, and operates with integrity.”