KING 5 investigation prompts end to multi-million dollar state expense

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by SUSANNAH FRAME / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @SFrameK5

KING5.com

Posted on April 9, 2010 at 10:54 PM

SEATTLE - A lucrative perk for a group of ferry employees dating back to the 1980’s will come to an end in June.

Earlier this month a KING 5 investigation revealed a group of workers assigned to "special projects" at the ferry system were collecting travel time and mileage pay to drive to and from work, for years on end. The practice has cost the state millions of dollars over the years.

Special projects are important to the safety, security and efficiency of the ferry system. They include developing training programs for deck hands, implementing safety programs, and training ferry engineers on the latest technologies.

The KING 5 Investigators found many of the special projects appeared to be more like permanent jobs: some lasting 10, 12, even 15 years. As long the jobs were classified as "special projects," the taxpayer-funded extra perks went along with them year after year after year.

A well-respected employee, Captain Mike O'Connor, has made the most in travel time and mileage according to records obtained by KING 5. O’Connor prepares and updates dozens of technical training and operational manuals for the ferry system. He’s been traveling from his home base in Anacortes to a regional ferry office in Everett to work on this special project for 12 years.

Last year in time and mileage alone, he made nearly $50,000.

Over the years, KING 5 estimates that's added up to about $480,000 for him to drive everyday to and from the exact same office.

Two weeks ago David Moseley, who has run the ferry system for just two years, told us he didn't know about this perk until KING 5 brought it to his attention, and that he intended to do something about it.

"I'm in charge of the ferry system. We have to fix this problem and we will," said Moseley.

It didn't take long. He contacted the Captain's union, Masters, Mates and Pilots (MMP), right away and proposed to end the deal because it's not provided in their contract.

The Branch Agent of the MMP in Edmonds, Capt. Tim Saffle, agreed.

"Since I've been Branch Agent, no one complained or brought up this issue, until your story,” said Saffle. “Now, I've written a letter to management saying we concur that travel time and mileage pay for members on special projects is not supported in our contract. From now on, those members will not get the benefit if a project goes longer than 30 days."

A ferry system official tells us they'll continue to pay travel time and mileage to special project employees through the end of June.

It’s unclear why the benefit was paid to the employees for so many years. Some close to the projects tell KING 5 it was simply a way for the ferry system to keep the specialized employees on the job and happy.

Susannah Frame continues her investigation on KING 5 News on Monday on 10 p.m. on KONG, on 11 p.m. on KING. She's uncovered that the ferry system missed a giant opportunity to end this practice years ago.

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