The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on January 26, 1996 · Page 11
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 11

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Salina, Kansas
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Friday, January 26, 1996
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Page 11
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THE SAGWtibURNAL Great Plains VIEWPOINTS / B2 ALMANAC / B3 FUN / B4 B T WILDLIFE AND PARKS SECRETARY Nominee has fraud in his past He was fired from position in Pennsylvania for altering pay records to increase his salary By MIKE SHIELDS Harris News Service TOPEKA — Steve Williams, who awaits confirmation by the state Senate as secretary of Wildlife and Parks, was fired from his previous state job in Pennsylvania for his part in a petty payroll fraud. Williams was fired Jan. 9,1995, as deputy executive director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission for his role in the altering of computerized pay records to show that he had been at the agency seven years, long enough to qualify for longevity pay raises. In fact, he had worked there barely a year. The data manipulation was caught within two weeks. Williams pocketed $55.50 in overpayments, which he later paid back to the state. He was never charged with a crime. But the episode resulted about 18 months later in the firing of him and another top agency official. Williams, a 38-year-old Pennsylvanian with a doctorate in forest resources, was hired by Gov. Bill Graves last year. But he has yet to be confirmed by the Kansas Senate. Wednesday some senators were asking questions about his previous employment. Sen. Janis Lee, D-Kensington said she and other senators have asked the Graves' administration to provide them details about William's Pennsylvania'firing before his confirmation comes to a vote on the Senate floor. Senators, including Lee, didn't raise the subject with Williams at his confirmation hearing Wednesday before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Williams said Wednesday that he did nothing wrong in Pennsylvania and that the record altering was done without his knowledge. The eight-member Pennsylvania Game Commission fired him for political reasons, he said, essentially using the payroll problem as an excuse. "At worst, I'd say I had bad judgment in trusting the guy who was personnel chief," Williams said. "Back hi 1993, the chief of personnel there approached me and said that as a new employee there would be no pay raise for seven years and that he might be able to find me a way to get a pay raise. He asked me if I wanted him to look into it. He never explained to me how he would do it. It was a casual con- versation, really. Well, I received two paychecks and a total of $55. The agency contacted me in April or May and told me I had an overpayment," and that he had to pay it back. "That's exactly what I did and that was the end of it." "..'••'• But a year later, a retired game department administrator complained to Pennsylvania game commissioners about the episode. The complaint led to an investigation by the Pennsylvania Inspector General's office. Williams said he didn't know the payroll records had been altered until the Inspector General's 'investigation began, months after the fact. He said he doesn't know why Personnel Director Robert Toth took the liberty of altering the pay records. Efforts to contact Toth, who also was fired, were unsuccessful. "That's a good question," Williams said. "I can't tell you what his intentions were except he was just trying to do his job. Unfortunately, he didn't do it appropriately in this case. It is so frustrating and discouraging to me that innuendo and rumors are being spread around about me in an attempt to embarrass me and embarrass my appointment. It's extremely upsetting." The Pennsylvania Game Commission fired Williams after receiving the Inspector General's report, which was never made public. T DOMESTIC VIOLENCE Abuse shouldn't affect insurability 'Sebelius supports bill to stop discrimination against victims By The Associated Press TOPEKA — Kansas legislators . have done a lot in recent years to protect women from domestic abuse and should now take another step, Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Sebelius said Thursday. She said lawmakers should make it illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against victims of domestic abuse. Sebelius testified before the SEBELIUS Senate Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee, supporting a bill she initiated that would prohibit insurance companies from denying life or health insurance because the applicant had a history of being abused by a spouse or family member. She said the Legislature in recent years has "really taken some positive steps to protect women hv'these abusive situations," and the next step is to see that they aren't discriminated against in the insurance market. Sebelius said Attorney General Carla Stovall has estimated there are 22,000 victims of domestic abuse in Kansas, and said her own survey of companies operating in the state shows two-thirds of them consider domestic abuse history when issuing new policies or renewing them. BRIEFLY Squirrel in transformer knocks electricity out The noise sounded like a shotgun blast, and at least one resident thought it was a bomb. But actually, ,a scampering squirrel had tripped a fuse in a transformer on 12th Street between Ash and State streets, cutting off electrical power to 37 houses. Chris Cole, KPL spokesman, said the fuse was blown at 9:51 a.m. Power was out for only 13 minutes, he said. The area affected was between 10th and 13th streets and Ash and State streets. Cole said workers believe the squirrel got between a live wire and the top of the transformer, causing the fuse to blow and breaking the electrical current. KPL protects the tops of transformers with "squirrel guards," Cole said, but sometimes squirrels are able to maneuver around those guards. Gypsum teen injured in two-car crash A Gypsum teen-ager was in satisfactory condition Thursday at the Santa Fe campus of Salina Regional Health Center after she was injured in a two-car crash Wednesday. According to a report from the Saline County Sheriffs Office, Stacy D. Huiett, 17, Gypsum, was turning right from Kipp Road onto K-4 at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday when her car collided with a car driven by Sherrie R. Bell, 34, Assaria. Bell was driving east on K-4. Huiett suffered lower back injuries, a hospital nursing supervisor said. Manager: Firefighters allowed blaze to spread SOUTH HUTCHINSON — The transportation manager of a South Hutchinson propane company that exploded into fire said Wednesday the town's all-volunteer fire department was to blame for the blaze's spreading out of control. "I was across the street, and as soon as I heard about the explosion I went over there," said Stan Matlock, transportation manager of Fueltech United, also known as Burke Energy Corp., where fire erupted about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. Matlock was sitting in his car when firefighters drove up. "I watched them hook up to the hydrant, turn on the water, and they still didn't put water on the fire," Matlock said. "I know they were hooked up and ready to go, and they still didn't put water on it." South Hutchinson Fire Chief Bob McBride said they had water on the fire within 8 or 10 minutes of arriving on the scene. "We had it hooked up once and were putting water on it, but when the propane truck popped, when the pressure valve went, we backed off. "We had to. You can't send your men into something like that until you know what it is. But, we were back putting water on it within two or three minutes. From Wire Service Reports Tomorrow's Headlines 825-6OOO Category 6006 (Call alter 7:30 p.m.) Hammer time CHARLIE RIEDEL/Hays Daily News Kansas Department of Transportation engineers Dennis Estes (top) and Danny Cooper tap on a concrete embankment with hammers to find hollow areas Wednesday as they inspect an overpass west of Hays. They were marking the bad spots for future repairs. T KCC HEARING Rate hike heats up Salmans 'How can we afford this?' Salinan asks of 8.48 percent utility increase By DAN ENGLAND The Salina Journal T FARM BILL Roberts plans revised ag measure By Bloomberg Business News Washington — ,The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee announced plans to craft a revised farm bill to help meet Democratic objections and speed a final bill toward passage by Feb. 29. Pat Roberts, a Republican from Kansas, said he will call a meeting of the Agriculture Committee on Tuesday and try to incorporate re- quests from Democrats and the Clinton administration for spending on export promotions, rural development, crop insurance and increased minimum loan rates on crops. Roberts seemed to soften his position in holding out for an earlier, Republican-backed farm bill that was vetoed by President Bill Clinton, but said the revised measure would still contain elements of the Freedom to Farm Act. Pressure for a farm bill is mounting as the planting season draws near. "I'd just as soon get this thing settled," Roberts told reporters. "I have my hands outstretched." Roberts' plans were announced following a warning from the president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, Dean Kleckner, earlier Thursday. "I think there will be a lot of dead bodies, politically, if there's no farm bill," said Kleckner. When a member of the Kansas Corporation Commission's general counsel remarked that he heated his house with propane, Salinan Todd Reinert rose in frustration. "You can order propane and check prices and decide which one costs the best to put in your tank, right?" Reinert asked. "Well, we can't do that. We have no choice." Reinert was one of several frustrated customers who spoke out against a proposed 8.48 percent increase for residential gas customers in the Salina area. The increase by Western Resources for KPL and KGE customers is expected to generate $36 million. The public hearing by the KCC drew more than 30 people. The business suits of the KCC and Western Resources mixed with the work and casual clothes of customers. Brenda Jensen, Salina, said she was worried about future increases and her ability to pay for them. "I'm a hard-working person," she said. "When is it going to stop? When is it going to end? How can we afford this?" Mike Peters, attorney for Western Resources, noted that the company last filed for a rate increase in 1991. He also said officials could have justified a $61 million rate increase but instead elected to go with a $36 million increase. The rates would still fall 15 percent under the national average, he said. The commission has 240 days to make a decision once testimony has been filed. After being asked several tunes where the increases will go, Jim Haines, chief operating officer for Western Resources, said the company's 1996 budget assumed it would receive the increase. "If we don't get that increase, we are going to have to cut out things we plan to do," Haines said. "It's not for the purpose of extra things. We would have to eliminate things we are planning to do." When you need to know. - T CROP CIRCLES Strange twist Plasma vortex blamed for crop circles near Inman By John Green The Hutchinson News INMAN — A research group in Michigan says crop circles that appeared in a farm field six miles northeast of Inman last summer may be caused by a "plasma vortex" caused by ozone depletion or other atmospheric pollution. McPherson County wheat farmer Loren Regier isn't so sure, but he hopes the phenomenon doesn't happen again in his field. Regier found the perfect 70- and 40-foot circles in his field June 21. A 4-foot-wide path connected the two and an L shaped area was laid down to the north. "What we suspect is going on is that in the upper atmosphere, in the ionosphere, particles are somehow being charged and eventually creating this very turbulent vortex (of microwave energy,)" said Naancy Talbott of the Pinelandia Biophysics Laboratory publicity office, Cambridge, Mass. "It's drawn to the Earth in various places due to magnetic susceptibility." "It sounds farfetched to me," said Doug Jardine, a plant pathologist with Kansas State University Extension, Manhattan. Hutchinson Community College biology instructor James Taylor has trouble with the theory. "My understanding of crop circles in England is that they've ultimately been shown to be a hoax," he said. "I haven't seen the ones in Inman, but I'd be inclined to think the same thing here." T WEIGHTS AND MEASURES Secretary suggests hiring outsider to run agency By The Associated Press TOPEKA — The state could hire a furloughed or laid off federal official as a way to repair its weights and measures program, Agriculture Secretary Allie Devine suggested Thursday. Devine said she has talked with officials at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Workers there are concerned that a continuing federal budget impasse could result in furloughs, or that the agency faces layoffs. The agriculture secretary said such workers would make ideal managers for the weights and measures program because, "They're the experts." Such a position would be short-term, perhaps six months, she said. Devine made her suggestion during a meeting of the House Agriculture Committee, which has been reviewing the weights and measures programs. Devine began an investigation of the weights and measures program shortly after she became secretary of agriculture last year. An audit released last week cited numerous deficiencies in the program and suggested that one in four small store scales, one in six electronic scanners and one in 10 fuel pumps are inaccurate. SUGGESTIONS? CALL BEN WEARING, DEPUTY EDITOR, AT (913) 823-6363 OR 1-800-827-6363

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