Watchdog 10 Finds City Workers Shopping For Clothes, Airline Tickets While On The Clock


UPDATED: Thursday February 28, 2013 8:53 AM

City employees are shopping for clothes, airline tickets and cars when they’re on the clock when they’re supposed to be working for the taxpayers, a Watchdog 10 investigation found.

Watchdog 10 analyzed the web data from the City of Columbus Department of Public Utilities, which is responsible for drinking water, sewers, drains and electricity.

The department, which employs about 1,200 people, clocked 3 million hits at its Southerly Wastewater Treatment Plant in one month.  Ninety-five people work at that plant.

Watchdog 10 found employees visiting travel sites like www.dunhilltraveldeals.com, www.carnival.com and www.hiltongrandvacations.com; auction sites like eBay and www.quibids.com; shopping sites like www.walmart.com and www.amazon.com; and sports sites, especially around the time of college football bowl games.

Greg Davies, who heads the Department of Public Utilities, said he believes the city’s Internet policy spells out what employees should and should not be doing.

READ THE CITY'S POLICY HERE

“What I’ve always told managers is similar to anything, I mean, using a good dose of common sense. I think the Internet policy spells that out.”

The city’s Comprehensive Electronic Communications Policy is a four-page document that every employee must sign.

Nancy Flynn, the Executive Director of the ePolicy Institute and the author of several books on managing electronic communications, said the city’s policy is comprehensive.

“Their electronic policy covers not only email and the Internet, but they’re also addressing mobile devices, smartphones and tablets,” Flynn said. “They’re addressing telephones and voicemail.”

The policy states that workers can use the Internet at any time for city business, but personal use should be limited to lunch or breaks.

Watchdog 10 uncovered that was not the case.  An office assistant visited Christopher and Banks, Lumber Liquidators, Art.com, Vera Bradley, Land’s End and Market Day all within a few hours of each other.

“Pretty much spending the whole morning shopping,” Flynn said.

On Christmas Day, when central Ohio was under a blizzard warning, a wastewater plant supervisor was apparently busy dreaming of a vacation at the Grand Pacific resort, visiting www.tripadvisory.com, www.expedia.com, www.travelocity.com and others.

On the day after Christmas, Watchdog 10 found a plant maintenance supervisor spending hours shopping for a vehicle on Craigslist sites in Columbus, Mansfield and Zanesville as well as classic car websites.

On most days, employees visited sites like www.youtube.com, www.songza.com and www.pandora.com.

On 19 out of 26 days, a wastewater plant supervisor repeatedly visited a site that streams movies, Watchdog 10 found.

“I would think that if they were (watching movies all day), they wouldn’t be doing their job,” Davies said. “So, therefore, a supervisor should be able to tell their supervisor - up to me, that hey, we’ve got a problem with this individual who is not doing their work.”

Davies said that if employees were really wasting time online, their work performance would suffer. He pointed out his agency’s efficiency.

Despite doubling capacity at plants and dealing with overflows, Davies said his department has gotten the job done with only a 1-percent rate increase, the lowest in 15 years, he said.

“And those are the things I judge my staff on,” Davies said. “And those are the things that I would think are the most important to rate payers.”

Flynn said she sees it differently.

“When you get employees, employees who are spending two to four to eight hours a day on personal activities, it definitely is a waste of taxpayer dollars,” Flynn said.

Davies insisted that his employees are productive, no matter how much time they spend online.

“But it’s my expectation above all that the work’s getting done,” Davies said. “And if someone’s on the Internet for five minutes checking on a vacation they booked, or doing some banking, or making sure a check cleared, is that ideal? No, but is that going to prevent them from doing their job they’re paid to do? Not that I’m aware of.”

Davies said he did not consider the internet any more of a workplace distraction than an employee reading a newspaper at his desk or taking a snack break or using the restroom.

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