Turtle Centre senior staff to pay back erroneous salary hike

Ezzard Miller chairs the 1 Dec. Public Accounts Committee meeting which looked into erroneous pay increases at the Cayman Turtle Centre.

Executives and staff of the Cayman Turtle Centre who, due to a “misunderstanding” of a new pay policy at the facility, received unwarranted salary increases, will be given the option of voluntarily paying back the money, the Public Accounts Committee heard Tuesday.

The PAC last month held meetings over two days to discuss the discrepancy, which involved an anniversary payment, which was supposed to be a one-off bonus, erroneously being paid monthly. The discrepancy was not noticed for about a year.

Witnesses before the committee have stated that the payments were made due to a misunderstanding within the centre’s human resources department.

More than 20 people, including the centre’s chief executive officer Tim Adam, chief operating officer Peggy Hamilton, and HR manager Yentel McGaw, received the monthly payments in error, at a cost of $27,303, the PAC heard.

The matter was before the PAC because the Turtle Centre is subsidised by public funds.

Hamilton, who returned to give evidence before the PAC when it resumed on Tuesday, 1 Dec., said she intended to pay back the additional money she had received in error, and said she understood Adam, who had received 10-year-anniversary payments, and McGaw also planned to do so. Hamilton said she had been told verbally that the board had decided at a meeting on 30 Nov. to accept repayments of the erroneous increases from staffers, but she had yet to see the written resolution from the board.

PAC chairman Ezzard Miller said the committee would request a copy of the board’s resolution.

The Compass has reached out to board chairman Brian Wight for confirmation and is awaiting a response.

Miller said the decision by the board appeared to be a 180-degree turn from what had been said by witnesses before the committee last month. At that time, the PAC heard that those who had benefited from the error would have their salaries temporarily frozen at that level.

Hamilton admitted she had failed to do her “due diligence” on the salary increases as she had assumed they were part of the pay policy guide that had been signed off by the board, and she had been busy working with Deloitte on audits at the time. When she eventually double-checked, in May this year, she “saw there was a misunderstanding”, she told the PAC Tuesday.

HR manager McGaw, who also appeared before the PAC Tuesday, said that in November 2019, she sent a cost analysis spreadsheet to the COO which included salary increases based on performance reviews. The cost analysis did not include anniversary payments for 2020, but she said she had subsequently received emailed instructions on 13 Dec. from Hamilton to include the annual 10-year and one-year tenure increments in the monthly salaries.

After the matter was taken before the Turtle Centre board, advice was sought from the Office of the Attorney General, and a decision was taken to deal with the issue by a pay freeze or “red circle” approach, Wight told PAC members last month.

Miller said he had been troubled to learn that the Turtle Centre’s CEO Adam was present at board meetings where the issue relating to the erroneous salary increases was discussed, and that he had failed to recuse himself, even though he was one of the employees who had benefited from the error.

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