City investigation finds more problems with JEA's employee-operated gyms

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - After three JEA employees who manage the utility's employee-operated gyms on a volunteer basis came under scrutiny over the last year, the city's Office of Inspector General launched an investigation into all of JEA’s gyms.

The inspector general's overall review of the management and oversight of the gyms at JEA facilities found there was no contract, agreement or release of liability between JEA and the gyms, no oversight of how finances were managed, and no written policies and procedures.  

The report also found another currently unnamed employee may have taken more than $1,400 of gym funds for personal use. That is still being investigated.

"JEA is committed to review and resolved all of the issues that they brought up," JEA spokeswoman Gerri Boyce told News4Jax on Thursday. "We know that these gyms are very important to our employees for health and wellness. We support that 100 percent."

For more than 25 years, JEA has offered space, paid the utilities and let its employees operate gyms in JEA buildings. A map shows there are a number of them in the city. Some have 70 to 80 members, while others have only about a dozen.

Complaints referred to the inspector general triggered the initial investigations, which found that some JEA employees who volunteered to run the gyms were pocketing a portion of gym membership dues for personal use. 

As News4Jax reported in May, Dwight Samuel was accused of embezzling more than $8,000 from the gym at the now-closed St. Johns River Power Park. He was ordered to pay back the money and avoided jail time for the theft. 

In October, News4Jax learned that Michelle Petty has been charged with grand theft. According to court records, her case has been referred to a felony pretrial intervention program. She has been placed on unpaid leave while JEA evaluates her employment. 

According to the report, she took nearly $12,000 of gym membership money for personal use.

"We are disappointed in some of the actions by the gym managers and that’s what we are committed to do -- to make sure there is a resolution to these issues so our employees can still enjoy this," Boyce said.

Another separate inspector general's investigation looked into Michelle Petty's husband, Eric, who co-managed the gym.

The investigation found he was getting a free gym membership, which violated JEA policy because he was supposed to be working as a volunteer.

He is still working for JEA. 

In its report on Eric Petty, the inspector general announced it was conducting a review of all JEA employee gyms due to operational inconsistencies.

READ: Office of Inspector General's review of JEA employee-operated gyms

The inspector general found that a lack of a contract or agreement between JEA and the gyms left each party's responsibilities related to the gym unclear. One example given was the liability for any injuries sustained at the gym.

That review also found there were inconsistencies -- some gyms had sign-up fees and some did not, and some gyms allowed members to order supplements while some bought them for everyone on a first-come, first-served basis.

Additionally, the report noted some gyms had better financial record keeping than others.

The inspector general presented that report to JEA. The utility said that by the end of March, it will make a decision on the future of the gyms and, if it is going to continue operating them, what sort of oversight will be put in place. Also, if the gyms are going to continue, JEA will draft policies for the gyms and related duties will be put into official job descriptions.

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