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Public Works employees undergo FEMA training after testing scandal

North Port FEMA training
Posted at 3:16 PM, Oct 02, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-02 15:16:00-04

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- It now appears allegations of cheating on FEMA tests by city workers in north port are true. A number of employees have admitted to being handed cheat sheets in order to pass tests.

Public works employees spent Thursday taking an 8-hour course to help them past the test, all while an investigation is ongoing into how many were given the answers, who gave to them, and if management lied about the situation when confronted.

"I am disappointed." North Port city manager Jonathan Lewis says he can't confirm how many of his workers cheated, but says at least one has come forward after all denied the allegations. "We all took an oath; if something is happening you need to come tell me. One of them took me up on that. He came and said ‘look, somebody is lying to you.’"

Lewis says the biggest concern now is how prepared the city is or isn't in the case of an actual disaster. "We can't have people think they don't have a basic understanding of what incident command is."

Not wasting any time, Thursday a handful of public works employees were being taught an 8-hour course in order to pass the open book test. "This is a unique opportunity for the field employees who don't typically have access to computers."

Emergency manager for the city, Richard Berman, says the information is critical. "These guys switch roles from fixing pipes, maintaining roads, installing signs to going out and cutting away debris, moving it off the roadway. Fixing roads and clearing them for emergency services."

But back to how we got here.

In one email obtained by ABC 7, an employee within public works says some were struggling to pass, and that managers were forcing the issue, saying "everyone taking the exams and everyone ‘helping’, including the supervisors, were following a directive from the operations manager. Bottom line."

"You can't exactly blame the front line guys, although I would think all adults know cheating is wrong." Lewis says when initially questioned, those in charge denied having any knowledge or involvement -- something he says could turn out to be an even bigger issue. "I think the other issue is if people are going to lie to you about something that doesn't involve pay, there is no real motive, it does beg the question as to what else they are willing to lie to you about."

Now there was a published report which said the first eight workers questioned admitted to cheating, and the investigator has heard enough. ABC 7 called that investigator Thursday, who says he could not confirm that at this time.