Transit Authority Wants Refund On Shoe Bill

CLEVELAND (AP) - Cleveland's transit authority wants $49,425 back for shoes that employees apparently bought for other people through its uniform-reimbursement program.

In one case, an employee bought six pairs of shoes in five different sizes on the same day. The shoes were among 12 pairs the worker bought for $671 within a two-month period.

The purchases were among hundreds of "questionable and inappropriate" shoe purchases made by Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority bus and train operators, booth attendants and supervisors over four years, according to an internal audit released this week.

Joe Calabrese, RTA general manager, sent a letter Friday to the Local 268 Amalgamated Transit Union demanding repayment. The union runs the shoe and uniform program.

The union had no immediate plans to pay, spokesman Gary Johnson said.

"I'm pretty sure that the figure is not correct," he said. "We're going to still have to sit down and meet and go over each sales receipt, item by item, and contact each individual."

Each of RTA's roughly 1,400 employees is eligible for a $450 yearly allowance for uniforms.

The audit cited 587 questionable shoe purchases by 179 employees from 1997 to early 2001. It did not deal with any other uniform purchases.

Calabrese said it was possible that the money due will be much less than $49,295, but that the union had canceled eight meetings since Jan. 8 to discuss the matter. Calabrese said he hoped the demand for payment will lead to a resolution.

Johnson blamed the cancellations on a transition at the union, now overseen by a trustee based in Cincinnati.

Calabrese's letter said legal action could follow if a payment arrangement is not made.

RTA has been in contact with the Cuyahoga County prosecutor's office and will review the findings with the prosecutor at "the appropriate time," Calabrese said, adding that it is premature to conclude there was a misappropriation of funds.

As a result of the audit, Calabrese said new safeguards include limiting shoe purchases to one pair every three months. He also said a private company will be hired to run the program, probably starting in October.

RTA carries nearly 60 million bus and train riders yearly.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)