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July 21, 2011 at 3:17 PM

City director retires following investigation into handling of fraud allegations

Posted by Lynn Thompson

This story has has been updated.

The director of Seattle's Aging and Disability Services Division retired Thursday, following a city investigation into the handling of fraud allegations at a city-funded nonprofit agency.

Pam Piering, 62, who has led the division for 15 years, was placed on paid administrative leave in May after a preliminary inquiry by the city Human Services Department questioned whether she adequately responded to a whistle-blower complaint alleging that city funds were being misappropriated in a program run by Senior Services of Seattle-King County.

Senior Services, a nonprofit social-services agency with more than $4.2 million in city contracts, fired a program manager in March and forwarded to Seattle police evidence it said suggested that $89,000 in city funds had been misappropriated. The King County Prosecutor's office is continuing to investigate the case and no charges have been filed.

Piering said she wasn't retiring over the investigation, but rather the leadership of the Human Services department under Dannette Smith, who was appointed director by Mayor Mike McGinn last year. The Aging and Disability division is part of the Human Services department.

"I'm not confident that I can work effectively under the department's current leadership," Piering said. She had worked for the city for 30 years.

The city had planned this week to release an independent investigation report into the handling of the fraud allegations. But the Human Services Department released a statement Thursday afternoon saying some department staff named in the report had filed a restraining order to prevent its release until a court hearing.

Several employees also were told of proposed disciplinary actions, the statement said.

Piering declined to comment on the investigation or the report.

Piering was in Washington, D.C., earlier this week to accept a national award for a city-led program that provides case management to Medicaid clients with chronic health-care needs.

Several of Piering's colleague's said her retirement would deprive the city of an outstanding administrator.

"When I talk to people doing this work nationally, they say that Pam is their idol. She is who they want to be when they grow up. She is one of those rare individuals who is a visionary in the field of aging," said Don Moreland, a member of the Seattle-King County Advisory Council for Aging and Disability Services.

The Human Services Department received an anonymous complaint last November alleging that city funds going to a Senior Services program were being misappropriated.

Piering directed a follow-up visit to Senior Services in December, but did not uncover any instances of fraud.

The complainant wasn't satisfied with the investigation and reported the concerns to a state agency, which notified Senior Services and the city in March. Senior Services' administrators found evidence that a program manager for the Kinship Caregiver Support Program was authorizing checks to a vendor for whom no documentation could be found. Some clients contacted by the agency said they never received services.

Smith's leadership of the Human Services Department previously came under fire in December when she merged the division of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Prevention with other programs. When she was hired, Smith described herself as a "change agent" who was looking for ways for the city to deliver services more effectively.

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Jim Brunner
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