Erie County administrators fired the head of Grover Cleveland Golf Course after nearly $13,500 in course fees went missing.
Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw said he learned of the missing money last year after his office conducted an audit of cash-handling procedures at county golf courses. His audit, to be released today, shows the park superintendent for the Grover Cleveland Golf Course was primarily responsible for handling cash and failed to make daily deposits as required by county policy.
The county fired Robert J. Shelby, 64, of Amherst, from his job as course superintendent on Dec. 23. Before that, he had been on paid leave for seven weeks.
Shelby has been under investigation by the Erie County Sheriff's Office since the money was discovered missing in early November, according to the audit. Shelby has not been arrested or charged with any crime.
He did not return a call for comment Wednesday.
A Sheriff's Office spokesman said the golf course matter remains under investigation, after 10 months.
The disappearance of $13,341 in golf course revenue and $150 in petty cash is roughly equivalent to lost greens fees from 1,000 residents, said Mychajliw, who called the disappearance of the money "highly suspicious."
In two past incidents, county golf course money has been mishandled. In 2005, a "software glitch" enabled a cashier to steal $2,700 from the Grover Cleveland Golf Course. And in 2013, a part-time seasonal employee at the Elma Meadows Golf Course was charged with stealing hundreds of dollars in greens fees by issuing golfers handwritten receipts instead of using the cash register. Both employees were arrested and charged with grand larceny.
Mychajliw said county administrators failed to enforce county cash-handling policies or adhere to recommendations made by the Comptroller's Office in both 2005 and 2013.
"Had they implemented the recommendations we made four years ago, this would not have happened," the comptroller said.
County administrators including Parks Commissioner Daniel Rizzo, however, said it is the Comptroller's Office that has been lax in its oversight responsibilities and that the situation was reported as soon as it was discovered. That's disputed by the Comptroller's Office.
The Grover Cleveland Golf Course is one of the region's oldest courses. Roughly 52,000 rounds of golf are played at the course each year, according to the audit report. The standard green fee ranges from $18 to $21, though discounts are available for youth, seniors and veterans.
The county also brings in revenue from golf cart rentals.
Comptroller's Office administrators said that in their audit interviews, they heard the golf course superintendent claim he had kept $7,000 in golf revenue in a vehicle on golf course property and claimed the vehicle was broken into and that the money was stolen. It was eventually determined that the amount of missing money was much greater, officials said. He was immediately placed on paid leave.
Shelby worked at the Grover Cleveland course, mostly as a part-time seasonal employee, since 2006. He was appointed to the full-time post of golf course superintendent in 2014 and earned more than $44,000 last year.
County officials said they could not comment specifically on any individual's personnel file or discipline.
Peter Anderson, spokesman for the administration of County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, said it is common for administrators to be placed on paid leave during an investigation into potential issues since a person is presumed innocent until an investigation shows otherwise.
"That is standard practice," Anderson said.
He added that, as a general rule, while police officials investigate criminal matters, even if a criminal case involving a county employee remains open, employees may be terminated for other work-related matters such as failure to follow county policies.
In response to the audit, Rizzo, the parks commissioner, stated: "The former superintendent was responsible for completing the daily deposits at the golf courses, and failed to do so correctly on a timely basis."
An additional clerk was hired to ensure proper oversight of daily financial transactions, he said.
The commissioner pointed out that many other changes were quickly made to the county's cash processing procedures after money was discovered missing and that most of those changes were made prior to the comptroller's audit. Those changes include installing new safes and surveillance cameras for the golf courses.
In a separate issue raised in the comptroller's audit report, the county was criticized for a policy that allowed employees at the Elma Meadows and Grover Cleveland golf courses to golf at the parks free of charge.
Moreover, it appears that free perk may have been extended to others who do not work at either golf course, including another parks administrator, Mychajliw said.
Rizzo responded that all complimentary employee passes have been suspended this year and that the policy will be re-examined.
He stressed that many changes have been made to ensure proper oversight of cash at the county golf courses and that residents should have confidence.
"The weaknesses that were uncovered have been addressed," he said. "We've been operating this whole season fine, proof that what we have implemented has been working. We have additional staff working on the golf course. We are very, very confident of the measures we've put in place."