***This all happened under the watchful eye of a FULL-TIME County Board.***
Fired Milwaukee County administrator now seeking a pension
A former Milwaukee County official facing felony fraud and kickback charges got paid for more than five months work after she was suspended from her $82,000-a-year job nearly a year ago, according to county records released Monday.
Freida F. Webb, who headed the county’s minority contracting office, initially was suspended without pay last July 20, when a search warrant revealed evidence of improper payments to and a $2,700 kickback from a contractor.
But Webb was handed some $32,000 in back pay in December when officials determined they had erred in cutting off her pay while she was still employed by the county, records show.
Now she’s also seeking a pension, though a decision on that will go to the County Pension Board later this month. The board must decide whether her pension can be denied for “fault or delinquency.”
Webb, 64, was kept on the county payroll — but still suspended from work — until March 5, when County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic quietly fired Webb.
Webb was charged last week with fraud, forgery, issuing a contract to a vendor through which she got kickbacks and misconduct in office. Contractor Homer Key got at least $40,000 more than he deserved through padded contracts with Webb’s county office and Webb got $2,700 in a kickback from Key in 2011, according to criminal complaints
Key, 68, also was charged with four felonies.
The shifting stance taken on whether Webb should be paid while under suspension was taken by Dimitrijevic on the advice of county personnel officials, said Kelly Bablitch, the County Board chief of staff.
Until last month, the Community Development Business Partners office Webb ran reported to the County Board. Under the new Act 14 law that trims County Board authority and resources, the office falls under the oversight County Executive Chris Abele.
The county reinstated Webb’s pay while she was under suspension on the advice of county lawyers and auditors, who determined that the county could not withhold her pay based solely on her arrest, said Jerome Heer, the county auditor.
She was arrested and jailed overnight a year ago, after prosecutors laid out a detailed case against her as part of a search warrant request.
That led to a county probe separate from the one carried out by prosecutors. Her firing was based on findings of violations of county work rules, Heer said.
“Our own verification became the foundation of moving her out of suspended status to termination status,” Heer said.
Webb’s pension application is being forwarded by the county retirement office to the Pension Board to determine whether she’ll get her pension, said Brendan Conway, a spokesman for Abele.
Under county rules, a pension can be denied a county retiree only if criminal conduct or other behavior barred by the county is found to be “substantially related” to a person’s job. Webb used her job as head of the county minority contracting office to draft a phony contract to Key and authorize thousands of dollars for work he didn’t do, according to criminal complaints.
In practice, denying a pension based on bad conduct is rare. Savvy county workers fearing impending firing often rush to retire before a termination edict is issued, thus salvaging their pensions without having to fight for them.
A 2001 state Supreme Court ruling said the county could not deny an employee a pension for some bad conduct without first conducting a hearing. The ruling noted that the union suing over a pension denial said that the county workers had often been “allowed to quit rather than wait to see if they’d be terminated.”
Rodney Cubbie, Webb’s criminal defense attorney declined to comment. He referred a reporter to another lawyer, Larraine McNamara McGraw, who Cubbie said was representing Webb on employment issues.
McNamara McGraw did not respond to a phone message.
Webb and Key are slated to appear in court next week on their charges.