The County Council tentatively approved $300,000 for nonpublic safety employees in the fiscal 2013 budget, on top of the $135,000 already in the fiscal 2013 budget for tuition assistance for the police department.
Before the program was suspended, The Washington Examiner discovered employees taking hot yoga classes, spending $1,000 on sailing lessons and learning Spanish in Costa Rica, while the county footed the bill. Some county police officers were caught buying Glocks and other guns at steep discounts through the program.
|• Fire department officials took Spanish lessons in Costa Rica.|
|• A police crossing guard took fashion and portrait photography.|
|• A fire department employee took "glass fusing."|
|• A fire official took a three-day basic ice climbing course.|
|• Employees in the Office of Human Resources took hot yoga.|
|• Public safety employees took training courses where they bought expensive flashlights, Glock handguns and sniper rifles at bargain-basement prices.|
|• A Department of Correction and Rehabilitation employee took courses like "Introduction to Herbology," "Herbology II" and "Overview of Energy Techniques."|
|• At least one member of the police department took five $120-courses at an unaccredited Bible college that offers online courses like "Church Growth" and "Bible Doctrines."|
The new program is not as costly as it was in fiscal 2010, when the budget was more than $830,000. And last fall, the county created protections to prevent that kind of abuse from happening again. The county will pay only for courses taken at an accredited institution that relate to an employee's current job functions or "career ladder," or that prepare employees to make a career change to another position within county government. The employee's department director and the director of the Office of Human Resources must sign off on an employee's course load before he or she enrolls in the program.
No employee can spend more than $1,830 a year on courses and must pay any nontuition fees. If an employee does not pass the course, he must reimburse the county for the cost.
In addition, Human Resources Director Joseph Adler must give the County Council an annual report detailing the courses each program participant took. The report for fiscal 2012 -- the first year the program was reinstated for police employees -- lists courses like "Ethical Behavior in Criminal Justice," "Constitutional Law," "Business Writing" and "Principles of Web Design and Technology."
Though the course list does include a motorcycle-training course, it is being taken by a motorcycle cop, said Chief Administrative Officer Tim Firestine, who oversees the program. And he is sure the Glock gun training course listed does not give officers a chance to get discount guns.
"I specifically said no guns for courses," he said.
And just in case the protections are not adequate, Inspector General Edward Blansitt said he plans to keep an eye on the program.
"They've spent a lot of time setting up a new structure that has a lot of controls in place," Firestine said. "I'm feeling pretty comfortable."
Fraternal Order of Police President Marc Zifcak and Municipal and County Government Employees Organization President Gino Renne could not be reached for comment.