AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – Aurora Fire Rescue’s second-in-command, Stephen McInerny, may have improperly used his department’s online leave system for the past two and a half years, allowing him to take what appear to be repeated vacations to Florida, New York and California without ever subtracting the time from his vacation “bank.” Those unused days can be converted into cash.
The CBS4 investigation found pay records show McInerny was being paid to work at the fire department at the same time that other records and photos show he may have been taking vacations in other states.
“It is double dipping. This is not okay,” said a veteran Aurora Fire Rescue officer who recently retired but asked their name not be used for fear of retaliation.
The retired officer used the same time keeping system as McInerny and reviewed documentation gathered during the CBS4 investigation.
“Because there’s no record of any leave being taken, and then at the end of the day, when he decides to retire or resign or whatever, he will get paid twice for the same amount of time,” said the retiree. “I find that to be a huge problem.”
CBS4 examined Aurora Fire Rescue’s leave calendars, McInerny’s social media posts, his payroll records along with his flight and hotel confirmations all of which suggested that the department’s Operations Chief, who is paid about $151,000 per year, has been frequently getting paid by Aurora taxpayers for working when he appears to have been enjoying leisure time in other states.
When he was recently approached by CBS4, McInerny insisted it was “all explainable,” but declined to offer any explanation, directing inquiries to the fire department.
An AFR public information officer said the department would not comment on specifics since they were looking into the same issue.
Some of the trips CBS4 found that didn’t add up:
– In August of 2020, McInerny flew to Los Angeles with his daughter on Wednesday Aug. 19, according to flight records. They stayed at a Los Angeles area hotel and McInerny posted numerous photos on his
Facebook page showing the pair seeing the sights of Los Angeles during their trip. However, Aurora Fire Rescue’s official leave calendar shows McInerny did not submit any leave slips for those work days.
-In November of 2019, flight records show McInerny and his family flew from Denver to Florida on the night of Sunday Nov. 24, missing a major snowstorm. The next day, Monday Nov. 25, McInerny posted photos from Naples, Florida saying he “arrived early this morning.” His wife also posted photos to social media indicating the family was in Florida. Property records show McInerny and his wife own a home in Naples, Florida where he previously served as Fire Chief. Flight records show McInerny flew back to Colorado on Tuesday Dec. 3. However, the Aurora fire department’s leave calendar does not show McInerny taking any time off Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday of the week of Nov. 25, nor taking off Monday, Dec. 2, yet payroll information shows he was paid his normal salary.
– Then in December of 2019, flight records show McInerny flew again with his family from Denver to Fort Myers, Florida on Thursday Dec. 19. He returned from Florida to Denver on Monday Dec. 30. However the Aurora Fire Rescue leave calendar does not show McInerny requesting any time off during the holiday week other than Christmas day, and payroll records show he was paid his normal salary for the week. So between the Thanksgiving week and Christmas week in 2019, McInerny appears to have taken at least six days off that he spent in Florida, while he was being paid to be on the job in Aurora.
– Department records also show McInerny has approval to work as a consultant for a defense contractor, L2 Defense. In September of 2019, L2 took part in a federal disaster drill in New York City. Flight records show McInerny flew to New York on Wednesday Sept. 25, and a photo from that week appears to show him at the New York disaster exercise. Flight records show he flew back to Denver on Sunday Sept. 29. However Aurora’s online leave system does not show McInerny taking any days off that week, while he was being paid to be at his primary job with Aurora Fire Rescue.
– Department records, flight manifests and other social media posts show McInerny repeatedly extended work trips to Florida by either arriving days early or leaving days later than colleagues, but not using leave time for those apparent vacation days. The department regularly sends personnel to Ocala, Florida to inspect new fire engines.
– In March of 2019, McInerny and four co-workers flew to Florida to inspect new fire engines. The City of Aurora paid for the flights. While the co-workers’ business trip lasted from Monday through Friday, flight records show McInerny booked a flight to come back the next Tuesday. According to the leave calendar, he did not submit any leave slips for time off on that Monday and Tuesday, and his work calendar shows he was “on the clock” in Aurora when he was apparently in Florida.
– In July 2020, he and an AFR co-worker flew to Florida to again inspect new fire apparatus. Flight schedules show the co-worker was there from Monday July 20 through Friday July 24 before returning to Colorado. McInerny booked a return flight — paid by the City of Aurora — from Florida on July 31. But for that entire subsequent week, July 27 through July 31, according to the leave calendar, McInerny did not submit any online leave slips and was being paid by the City of Aurora according to payroll records.
The retired fire officer interviewed by CBS4 said “There is no explanation, other than just not following the rules, feeling like you can do these things without being held accountable.”
Sherri-Jo Stowell, the fire department’s Community Engagement Administrator, told CBS4, “The city takes this matter very seriously.” She said a third-party investigator has been hired to look into McInerny’s travel and leave issues.
“We know that being accountable as public employees is more important than ever … the city is reviewing leave-usage policies to make sure they reflect the intent of our expectations for employees.”