SEATTLE -- Of the 1,500 employees that work for Seattle Public Utilities, only a small number have access to customer accounts and billing. And one rule is very clear.
"It's pretty simple,” said Andy Ryan, the utility’s spokesperson. “You're not suppose to touch your account, or the accounts of your friends or your family.”
During a system wide audit, requested by the state, the utility found six employees inappropriately accessed their own accounts or the accounts of family members.
At least four of them worked as utility account representatives, and are accused of modifying their own payment arrangements or of their family members.
"You're bill is due in a single payment at a single time, you could help yourself out if you were short on money by spreading that time out,” said Ryan.
In all, the utility lost $440 dollars. It may not seem like a big deal, but the Seattle Ethics and Election Commission says the dollar amount isn't the issue.
"There are really two problems, first city employees dealing with matters in which they have financial interest, or their families, both of those are verboten under the ethics code,” said Wayne Barnett, the commission’s director. “Second problem which is a little more egregious is city employees getting something that is not available to the general public.”
And that's important especially in this economy. Customers need to know they can trust the utility with public money. So it's making some changes.
SPU says it's improving oversight, reducing the list of staff with access to billing, and reminding them of their ethics obligations along with requiring them to sign a confidentiality agreement that includes an ethics statement.
SPU says it may take a few months to complete its investigation. It’s possible more employees could face disciplinary action.