Nov. 13 2015 02:18 PM

Second Ingham County IT employee terminated

FRIDAY, NOV. 13 — Another Ingham County employee has been fired in the wake of the scandal over violations of the ethics policy by the head of the Information Technology Department.

Frank Chain, the department’s program manager, fired this afternoon. A press release said he was let go “as a result of an internal investigation regarding possible unethical actions.”

Chain’s boss, Michael Ashton, was dismissed last month after an investigation by City Pulse revealed in emails that Ashton had taken at least eight junkets and tickets to professional sporting events from county contractors he oversaw.

“This action brings our internal investigation into the actions of the IT Department staff to a conclusion,” County Controller/Administrator Timothy J. Dolehanty said. “The county acted promptly after these allegations became known.”

Meanwhile, an investigation by the Mason Police Department continues. The police department began conducting the probe after the county Sheriff’s Department declined to do so because of a conflict of interest. However, the police department obtains some of IT services from the same department it investigated.

A second release of documents found Ashton’s top aides, Chain and Vincent Foess, had also taken favors from vendors. Foess was named interim director and given a $20,000 increase to more than $96,000 a year.

Chain attended a Red Wings event hosted by Comcast in March. While Foess was copied on the emails about the event, he did not attend, Dolehanty said.

The emails reveal Chain and Ashton attended the event with their sons. In the emails, Ashton tells Chain not to “broadcast” that the event was free. When Chain emailed to confirm they were going to attend, Ashton said to call the event a “product review.”

There are also emails between Chain and Comcast related to his home Internet services. It is unclear from the context what Chain was seeking or why he used the county’s business contact to assist him.

Foess attended two golf outings sponsored by vendor Information Systems Intelligence or ISI. He has been docked eight hours of vacation time for his participation in the golf outing this year — which Dolehanty said he had verbally objected to, but attended at Ashton’s direction.

The Wyoming, Mich., firm’s contracts with Muskegon County were abruptly terminated in April after a review found that nearly half of $11 million in contracts for computers and telephone systems had not been authorized by the Muskegon County Commission, The Muskegon Chronicle reported. ISI is also being investigated for alleged overcharges.

Ingham County entered into a contract for similar products with ISI. The company has been involved in controversial contracts in Poplar Bluff, Mo., where a criminal investigation is underway, according to newspaper reports.

The county ethics policy states: “The County’s employees, directors, appointed or elected officials, volunteers, or agents shall neither solicit nor accept gratuities, favors, gifts, consulting fees, trips, or anything having a monetary value in excess of twenty-five dollars ($25.00) from a vendor, potential vendor, from the family or employees of a vendor, contractors or parties to subcontracts.”