CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - The Cincinnati Recreation Commission's tried for nearly a year to fill two middle-management positions to oversee the city's recreation centers. The process is still trudging on as the commission tries to select two internal employees after cheating allegations were investigated following a March promotional examination.
The exam was designed to whittle a pool of 25 candidates down to two. The promotions are open to all current recreation commission employees. The 25 offered the test took it at the city-county Regional Operations Center on March 14. Days after the test, multiple recreation employees reported to the city's human resources department they saw cheating during the exam.
A city human resources investigator spent a few days investigating the cheating allegations. The investigator recommended the city discard the test results and retest the section form where the cheating allegations came. The city ignored their own investigator's recommendation and gave everyone who took the test full credit; including the accused cheaters.
Now, a list of 11 candidates are undergoing interviews—a list that includes people accused of cheating. For some on that list, the promotion could mean $20,000 pay raises.
CINCINNATI REC COMMISSION WANTS TWO GOOD PEOPLE
In September 2013, the city's recreation commission posted a promotional opportunity for two Service Area Coordinators. The jobs top out at $30.81 an hour—or $64,080.12 a year. The jobs were middle-management positions, responsible for overseeing multiple recreation centers across the city. These positions were open to current recreation employees.
To get the job, applicants were required to take a promotional examination that consisted of multiple choice, written and oral components. The multiple choice section was worth 60 percent of the total, the written was weighed at 20 percent and the oral made up the remaining total. The test was set for March 14.
A total of 25 employees showed up to the exam site in March, looking to earn the two management spots. City records show no issues arose during the multiple choice portion; the troubles came during the second and final section that day.
The city's investigative report shows, multiple employees reported seeing several other test takers cheating on the written portion of the exam. The written component required candidates to draft a letter to a "disgruntled" tax payer, to show how they would handle conflict. Our sources inside the city told FOX19, the written portion also contained questions of personal and business ethics.
The cheating, according to the city's records, happened when several people continued to type after the one hour time limit expired and the man giving the test turned his back to print test scores. Our source tells us a few of the accused cheaters continued to type for more than five minutes after the proctor ordered everyone to stop.
Interviews were supposed to be held for these positions March 17, but the cheating investigation and the city's handling of the investigation would delay those interviews for another five months.
HUMAN RESOURCES INVESTIGATES
Within days of the March 14 test, calls and emails started pouring in to the city's Human Resources department, accusing multiple recreation employees of cheating on the promotional examination. Emails obtained by FOX19 show the city's HR department opened an investigation into the allegations right away. The city's investigative report shows HR assigned Darrell Ludlow to perform the investigation—Ludlow was also the man who administered the test in March.
Ludlow, the report shows, was told just after time ran out on the written test that people were still typing. The report shows Ludlow turned and "forcefully announced, 'Come on, I am only one guy here. Quit typing.'" Ludlow later said that he "did not personally hear or witness anyone typing beyond the time limit," the HR investigative report shows.
The city got reports from at least four employees reporting the cheating. The city never interviewed any of the witnesses or any of the people who were accused of cheating, the city's internal report shows.
The only efforts to investigate the allegations was an email from Ludlow to Regional Operations Center manager, Steve Siereveld. In the email, Ludlow asked Siereveld if there was video of the room where the test took place. The HR report shows Siereveld had video of the room, but told Ludlow there was video of the testing room, "but wouldn't likely detect someone typing or not." The city's HR staff took Siereveld's word and never made an attempt to obtain a copy of the video to use it in the investigation of the alleged cheating, according to city spokesman, Rocky Merz.
By March 28, the city finished its investigation into the cheating allegations, issuing a recommendation to HR director Georgetta Kelly and the Civil Service Commission that the written test work from the March 14 exam "should not be reviewed or rated and a new written work sample exam should be administered," the city's report shows. Days later, the city's HR brass ignored its own investigator's recommendation and decided to give everyone who attempted the written component full credit for that portion of the exam.
The city's handling of the investigation into the cheating allegations and the city's decision to give everyone—including the accused cheaters—full credit, drove a source to speak out about the case to FOX19.
'THE CITY'S DISREGARD FOR THE TRUTH IS SICKENING'
In early June, a source with direct knowledge of the cheating investigation and the city's handling of it reached out to FOX19, tipping us off to the cheating scandal. The source, who we agreed not to identify, risked their job to make the scandal public.
"It's a huge problem because one of the test questions—they talked about cheating on a Civil Service test and that is punishable up to termination from your job," the source told FOX19 during an interview in early August. The source said they would have never spoken out if the city had handled the cheating investigation "with some semblance of seriousness" and simply forced everyone to take the test again.
"Not only done a disservice (to tax payers) but now you're hiring and promoting somebody that doesn't have any ethical basis and if they're open to cheating on a promotional exam, what else are they open to," the source said.
The source confirmed to FOX19 that the city's HR investigator never interviewed those who witnessed the cheating and never interviewed any of the people accused of cheating. The city's HR investigative report FOX19 obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request doesn't show where the city conducted a single interview to investigate the cheating allegations. The source said that's proof the city wasn't serious about getting to the bottom of the allegations, "Had they interviewed even half of those people, they would have realized many people, at least six people cheated on that exam," the source told FOX19.
Cincinnati's Human Resources Department recalculated the scores from the initial test and produced a list of 11 finalists for the two open positions. Interviews with those 11, included some of the people accused of cheating, our source confirmed to FOX19. Those interviews happened on August 13, 14 and 18.
HUMAN RESOURCES DEFENDS ITS DECISION
On August 11, FOX19 sent Cincinnati Human Resources Director Georgetta Kelly an email, requesting an interview for this report. Kelly responded three hours later, telling us she was forwarding our request to the city's public information office "for a reply." Kelly never agreed to the interview, instead the city offered up Kelly's second in charge to field questions regarding the cheating investigation and the city's handling of it.
The city manager's office initially agreed to make someone available in lieu of Kelly in an August 12 email. The city manager's office wanted a list of questions to have someone in HR answer them for this report. After not agreeing to submitting questions, FOX19 again asked the city to make someone available for an on camera interview for this report.
On August 13, HR Deputy Director Nancy Olind agreed to a 15 minute interview with us. Olind defended the city's handling of the cheating scandal. "We essentially leveled the playing field," Olind told FOX19 when asked about why the city did not follow its own investigator's recommendation. "We were unable to substantiate or not whether cheating occurred. We said, if you participated, you are able to engage in that exercise, it's pass/fail and the candidates passed," Olind explained.
Our source told us the city decided against a retest because the city was in a hurry to fill the two open positions—the cheating allegations helped delay the process even more. Olind said that was not the case, "It's not as simple as there wasn't time. It really wasn't necessary."
But, a June 27 email from HR analyst Darrell Ludlow to multiple recreation commission employees tells a different story. In the email, Ludlow informs the test takers that the city decided not to retest the written component, instead everyone would get credit for it. Ludlow explained HR couldn't substantiate the cheating allegations and that the positions have been open since Sept. 30, 2013. Ludlow went on to write, "the Cincinnati Recreation Commission has an emergent need to fill the position as this is a prime time of the year for CRC," the email shows.
Olind denied the city was in a hurry to fill the spots, despite the Ludlow email. "The list is not tainted as the written and oral portion provide us with what we need in order to make the assessment of the candidates," Olind told FOX19. Olind reiterated the written portion of the test didn't matter in coming up with scores to determine the best 11 candidates.
On August 13, 14 and 18, we watched as the final 11 recreation commission candidates walked into the Corryville Recreation Center for interviews with a four person interview team. The team included Cincinnati Recreation Commission Director Doris Simmons and two of her subordinates. One other employee from the city's Health Department also participated in the interview process.
Our source identified some of the names on the final list of the 11 as some of the people accused of cheating on the promotional exam. We do not have any names confirmed from the public record and will not publish them here.
The interviews were slated to last one hour. The interviews we saw take place lasted an average of 40 minutes. CRC Director Chris Bigham will select the two final candidates from the 11 interviewed. Those final interviews will take place this week.
CITY'S HANDLING OF FOIA HAS DELAYED OUR INVESTIGATION
On July 30, we sent the city's public information office a Freedom of Information Act request, asking for the internal investigative report, all emails concerning the cheating allegations, any digital records associated with the investigation. On August 1, the city sent us Human Resource's final investigative report and the job positing for the two positions.
The city's response did not include any emails concerning the investigation.
The video of the room during the test was also not made available to us under the FOIA request. The reason the video was not available, according to city spokesman Rocky Merz, is because the city's HR investigator never got a copy of it for the report. We asked Merz to get a copy in compliance with our original request, but the county's Regional Operations Center manager Steve Siereveld told Merz videos from the ROC are only kept for 30 days.
On August 18, Merz told us the city is "still working" on gathering the emails we initially requested on July 30. As of this report, the city of Cincinnati still has not provided FOX19 with any of the electronic records we requested under the state's Freedom of Information Act.
Because of the time it's taken the city to gather the email records, we cannot complete our investigation into the city's handling of the cheating allegations or verify the information the city's provided us up to this point.