A high-ranking Calumet City municipal employee – who also is the son of the south suburb’s long-time mayor – was disciplined after the Better Government Association inquired about Apple computer devices that went missing on the employee’s watch.

Paul Freyman, son of Calumet City Mayor Michelle Markiewicz Qualkinbush, recently was suspended for 10 days without pay and ordered to reimburse the city $3,500 – the cost of three Apple iPads and a MacBook Pro laptop, according to interviews and public records obtained by the BGA.

Calumet City Mayor Michelle Markiewicz Qualkinbush

Freyman, a $69,680-a-year deputy commissioner in the public works department, told city officials he accidentally destroyed the computer equipment last February while driving a Bobcat work vehicle on city property, municipal records show.

Freyman told superiors he then threw away the broken technology and waited a week to tell his boss, according to the records.

The boss, though, told city officials he didn’t know until later.

Either way, nothing happened to Freyman until last month when he was suspended for “failure to promptly report defective equipment” and “failure to keep equipment in good condition,” among other reasons, municipal records show.

Freyman was notified of the suspension three days after the BGA sent a request under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act seeking records relating to computers, laptops and tablets purchased by public works.

The BGA sent the records request after learning from a tipster that computer equipment might be missing.

One alderman wonders whether Freyman, 34, got off easy because of clout.

“If someone else was involved he might’ve been terminated,” Ald. Antoine Collins says. “I don’t believe it was crushed. What kind of story is that? It’s ridiculous.”

Freyman didn’t return messages from the BGA.

Per the BGA’s request, Calumet City turned over copies of invoices showing eight iPads, four MacBooks, software and accessories were purchased from October 2012 to December 2012, at a total cost of nearly $11,000 in taxpayer money.

But the city had no documents showing the regular users or locations of that equipment. Some serial numbers weren’t even recorded, raising questions as to why controls and record keeping were so porous.

Initially, Qualkinbush denied any tablets or laptops were missing. “All the equipment is accounted for,” she told the BGA.

It wasn’t until the BGA sent a follow-up request for municipal records on Dec. 10 seeking “copies of employee reports, memos or other [recent] correspondence” in regards to missing or damaged technology that the city turned over copies of a signed statement from Freyman and personnel orders showing he’d been suspended.

“On Friday, February 1, 2013, I was operating a Bobcat moving things back into place at the Sewer Department,” Freyman writes in the statement. “While in the process of this I damaged a laptop and 3 iPads that were placed in a box. All the items were completely damaged beyond repair.”

Initially, Qualkinbush denied any tablets or laptops were missing. “All the equipment is accounted for,” she told the BGA.

“I discarded them at the Sewer Department and told my Department Head Nick Yovkovich about a week later.”

Yovkovich told city officials he was not notified then, but it’s unclear when he learned of the missing equipment.

This is Freyman’s second employment stint with Calumet City. Most recently, he was hired July 2009, hours before the City Council approved a hiring freeze.

His suspension took effect Nov. 6.

Also disciplined was Yovkovich, then commissioner of public works and a cousin of Thornton Township Supervisor Frank Zuccarelli, a political powerbroker in the south suburbs. Yovkovich, 54, was also suspended for 10 days without pay because as head of the department he was ultimately responsible for the equipment, according to a copy of a personnel order obtained by the BGA.

Yovkovich, who was paid $79,418 a year, served his suspension and retired Nov. 30. He declined to comment publicly for this story.

This is the latest BGA investigation of Calumet City’s municipal government. Click on these links for further coverage:

Watching The Watchdog

Cash Flows

A Long, Strange Trip

Miami Spice

Municipal Attorney Could Lose Lucrative Taxpayer-Funded Pension

Paradox City

A Perplexing Pension in Calumet City

This story was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Andrew Schroedter, who can be reached at (312) 821-9035 or aschroedter@bettergov.org.