The Investigators: On Your Dime

The Investigators: On Your Dime
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - City-parish workers don't often reach out to the media saying they are not given enough work. One East Baton Rouge Department of Public Works employee, Sylvester Salvage, openly admitted just that.

He described going to work as, "Just going there and having fun. To me, that's what it is."

Prior to December, Salvage and three others worked to maintain the parish's 460 pump stations, which included pump maintenance, weeding around the pumps and cutting the grass.

In a letter from DPW, the group of four was temporarily reassigned effective Dec. 13, 2014 to the sewage department.

The letter told the group the move is temporary because their other job, cutting grass, was seasonal.

"We were moved to Chippewa to the sewer department stating that they needed help over there. We were moved over there to help but we haven't been a great impact over there. While we've been there, most of the time, I just ride around with a couple of guys everyday," said Salvage.

The 9News Investigators agreed to follow Salvage at work one day without telling him when we would do it. He later filled us in on some details of what he was doing that day.

The day started out at the Chippewa DPW lot at 6:30 a.m.

6:48 a.m.: Salvage spotted filling up gas in his work truck
7:36 a.m.: Salvage left out of the Chippewa lot driving a support truck behind a vacuum truck
8:28 a.m.: The group stops in a neighborhood near Zachary to vacuum out excess sewage
9:18 a.m.: Salvage and his passenger left the neighborhood
10:06 a.m.: The two pull into a lot on N. Dual St. where Salvage said his supervisor had to get parts for a pipe
11:43 a.m.: Left the lot on N. Dual St.
12:40 p.m.: Met back up with the vacuum truck where Salvage said he had to switch off with a sick worker
2:18 p.m. : Pulled back into Chippewa lot ending their day

In his 8 hour workday, the 9News Investigators noted Salvage spent 3 and a half hours driving around the parish, another 3 and a half hours spent waiting or sitting around and less than one hour on manual labor. After the fact, Salvage said that was one of his busier days.

"A waste of the taxpayer dollars that I'm just riding like that when I could have been doing what I was doing that the taxpayers are paying for keeping those pump stations clean," said Salvage.

One of the pump stations Salvage said he used to cut grass around is in Greenwood Estates.

"This area over here really needs to be addressed. It's not being handled this year. In the past, the crew that they had took care of it on a regular basis without me calling in," said Willie White, who has lived next to the pump station for the past 36 years.

White said so far this year, the grass has not been cut even once and he has called DPW several times asking them to come cut it. Before though, he said he never had to call because the group maintained it regularly. Now, at times, White said he's tried to cut it himself but it's only damaged his equipment.

"I have my grandchildren here, and I was concerned about the issues with the snakes, but that's not my task," said White.

"We want the most efficient work force that we can get," said Interim DPW Director Carey Chauvin, who was on his third day on the new job at the time of the interview.

Chauvin said the four men were reassigned because of a shortage in another section, but added the move is now permanent, not temporary as the letter first stated. He said in May, when the season changed and grass started growing again, DPW assigned two other people to maintain all the pump stations including cutting grass.

Kiran: Do you think that's enough?
Chauvin: We believe it is.
Kiran: We followed them around one day and we saw basically one hour of work and a lot of driving and some even sitting around. What do you say to that?
Chauvin: I would say that's certainly not what we want.
Kiran: Is that efficient work?
Chauvin: No, I don't think anyone would agree that's efficient.

Other employees, who refused to go on camera fearing retaliation, agreed with Salvage saying they do a lot of driving and sitting around. One added they did not get any training before being reassigned to the new position so they're unfamiliar with the job. Chauvin said that all employees are trained before any job.

Kiran: These employees say they're not doing enough work.
Chauvin: Well, we want them employed 100 percent of the time that they're here so I mean certainly we would get with the manager and supervisor and find out what they're doing now opposed to what they were doing.
Kiran: What if they even feel this is a waste of taxpayer dollars?
Chauvin: Well I mean, again, I just have to get all the details. I don't have enough details to comment on that. 

After WAFB started running on promotions on the story earlier in the week, DPW requested to meet with us again to give us more information.

"Acknowledging that we've got our pump stations that require maintenance, particularly grass cutting, we've got to prioritize our work, and our priority in the sewer division is blockages and stoppages," said Chauvin.

Chauvin and his team provided the GPS trackings from Salvage's support truck and vacuum truck the day that the 9News Investigators followed him. It verifies everywhere the Investigators saw him go that day, but Chauvin said a support truck is meant to carry equipment the vacuum truck cannot carry so if that crew needs any of it, it's at their disposal. Salvage was driving that support truck.

"If he is with that vacuum truck in that route to these work orders, these work locations, then yes, we would consider that working," said Chauvin.

As for whether Salvage efficiently worked a full 8-hour day that day, Chauvin said, "Based on the information I have, yes. We're not going to accept sitting around, driving around and doing nothing. That's payroll fraud."

Chauvin added that he believed Salvage was a disgruntled employee.

"You understand that what they were doing before, they were not gainfully employed for eight hours. Now they are. They're part of this stoppage crew that stays busy 24 hours a day," said Chauvin.

Chauvin said they will go back and re-examine their processes including looking at whether two people are enough to maintain all the parish pumps.

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