Health Department Administrator fired for filing false travel claims

Wednesday, November 8th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Another state Health Department official has been fired, but it had nothing to do with ghost employees or bribes.

Steven R. Childress was a local administrator for Pontotoc, Bryan and Marshall counties and was fired last week for filing false travel claims, according to an order signed by Acting Director Jerry Regier.

The firing happened on Oct. 30, but wasn't made public until Tuesday.

In his order, Regier called Childress' actions constituted "serious misconduct."

"Childress knowingly filed false travel claims and received reimbursement on those claims," Regier wrote.

Childress has an unlisted number in Ada and could not be reached for comment.

Health officials said Childress filed a series of false travel claims after moving from Durant to Ada in January 2000.

Childress admitted "that at least for six months, he filed claims stating that he left each day from Durant, when in fact he was living in Ada," said Suzanne W. Nichols, who served as the administrative law judge at Childress' pre-termination hearing.

Nichols said Childress contended he had often failed to file travel claims for miles driven for the Health Department during his career. But she said whether Childress had been under-reimbursed in the past was irrelevant.

Childress was paid $46,807.20 a year before he was fired. Before his firing, Childress had been placed on administrative leave.

During the hearing, Childress objected to being placed on "house arrest" during that time. His attorney, Janet Haliburton, also objected to having a Health Department attorney, rather than an independent hearing officer, serve as the administrative law judge.

More than 30 Health Department employees have been fired or resigned under pressure since May, following the bribery arrest of a former state Health Department official who was later convicted.

Many people have been fired after records showed they were on the Health Department's books, but were "ghost employees" who did little or no work.