Des Moines’ chief pothole-fixer fired, accused of falsifying records

nterior of an empty courtroom with gavel and sounding block on the desk.
Courtroom and gavel (Photo by Getty Images)

The plethora of potholes that Des Moines drivers had to dodge last year were partly due to a city employee who falsely claimed the holes had been properly patched, state records show.

In 2019, the City of Des Moines fielded 16,000 pothole complaints from citizens, which was roughly 10,000 more than usual. The city’s public works director, Jonathan Gano, told the Des Moines Register that potholes had become a “plague” in the city.

State unemployment records show that at roughly the same time Gano was making those comments, the city fired Public Works Operations Manager Moussa Pepouna, who had worked for the city since December 2014. He was accused of falsely reporting to his superiors that many of the holes he was responsible for fixing had been repaired.

The city has an electronic system that allows residents to report potholes and roads in need of repair. The complaint generates a so-called “HEAT ticket” that is assigned to a pothole repair crew.

Pepouna and a colleague were to review the repairs and close the tickets once the work was adequately completed.

In March 2019, the city was struggling with a backlog of HEAT tickets and unrepaired potholes. Pepouna’s bosses met with him to discuss performance issues that reportedly included failure to report to work on time and inappropriate use of city resources. He was placed on administrative leave, and didn’t return to work until April 10. He was then given a three-day unpaid suspension and what the city called a “last-chance warning.”

Still, the backlog persisted. In September, Gano initiated a review of HEAT tickets closed by Pepouna to verify the work was being completed. A review of 30 tickets closed by Pepouna in August indicated that work had not been completed on six of the jobs.

The city then reviewed 10 of tickets closed by Pepouna during one week in September, and found that only three of the 10 had been properly closed and the work completed.

Pepouna was then fired for prematurely closing the HEAT tickets, and for misrepresenting facts to management during the subsequent investigation.

An administrative law judge recently denied Pepouna’s request for unemployment benefits.

Among the other Iowans who recently sought unemployment benefits after resigning or being fired from their jobs:

  • Christopher Welborn, who was fired in January by the City of Hawarden, where he had been employed as a police officer since May 2018. He was fired after participating in a child-custody exchange with his ex-wife at a police department in the nearby community of Sergeant Bluff. During the exchange, Welborn took offense at a comment made by a Sergeant Bluff police officer and asked for that officer’s name and badge number. Welborn had previously been given warnings for the poor quality of his police reports; an allegation of harassment that Welborn denied and which did not result in criminal charges; and at least one instance of sleeping on the job. Welborn was awarded unemployment benefits, with the judge noting that the incident in Sergeant Bluff was not connected to his job and did not harm the city’s interests.
  • Traveante Montgomery, who was fired in January from Covenant Medical Center where he had worked as a full-time laboratory assistant for the three months. He was accused of carelessness and negligence involving numerous instances of improperly labeled lab specimens. He was denied unemployment benefits, with the judge noting that his actions “could have had dire consequences to patients” and exposed the employer to liability.
  • Kyle Plendl, who recently filed for unemployment benefits after being fired last summer from the Sioux County Sheriff’s Department where he had worked as a jailer since 2017. In May 2019, the sheriff of Plymouth County asked Plendl to come in for an interview. Plendl agreed, but during the course of that interview Plendl realized he was under investigation. The next day, Sioux County placed Plendl on paid administrative leave due to a pending investigation, and Plendl never returned to work. In responding to Plendl’s recent claim for unemployment benefits, Sioux County did not disclose what triggered the investigation. Plendl was awarded benefits, with the judge noting that the county “failed to provide any evidence of willful and deliberate misconduct.”
  • Kimberly Mincey, who was fired in January from the Central Iowa Hospital Corporation for whom she had worked as a full-time surgical technician. After suffering a workplace injury, Mincey took four months off work to recover from spinal surgery, and when she returned to work,  she was summoned to a meeting, accused of falsifying an answer on a questionnaire at the beginning of her employment in 2017, and was escorted from the property. At the time, she had a worker’s compensation claim pending. She was awarded unemployment benefits, with the judge ruling that she had been fired for no reason that would warrant the denial of benefits.
  • Deborah Callahan, who was fired late last year from Northwest Iowa Hospital Corp. where she had been employed as a registered nurse and care coordinator for the elderly. She was accused of disregarding patients’ health concerns. She was denied unemployment benefits, with the judge ruling that “the weight of the evidence establishes that Ms. Callahan carelessly and negligently” failed to address patients’ needs, adding that there was a “pattern of similar demonstrations of disregard.”
  • Deshawna Bogguess, who was fired in January from a nursing home run by Christian Retirement Homes where she worked as a certified nursing assistant. She was fired after her employer reviewed surveillance footage and allegedly saw Bogguess sleeping on the job for 45 minutes during her shift. She was denied unemployment benefits.
  • Rochelle Yotter, who was fired in January from Great River Medical Center where she had worked as a hospital clerk since 1989. She was fired after her employer said she had twice looked at patients’ medical files out of curiosity and with no legitimate business purpose. She was denied unemployment benefits.
  • Tiffany Novak, who was fired in January from REM-Iowa where she worked as direct support professional assisting disabled individuals. After she arrived at work on Jan. 28, Novak’s co-workers stated she smelled of alcohol, was not standing upright, and was slurring her speech. Her car was also observed in the parking lot with its wheels on the steps of one of the facility’s apartment buildings. In October 2019, REM-Iowa had issued Novak a final warning for reporting to work while appearing to be under the influence of alcohol. She was denied unemployment benefits.
  • Jared Sommerfelt, who recently filed for unemployment benefits after being forced to resign last year from Lee County where he had worked as a public safety dispatcher. In March 2019, he quit while facing termination for sleeping on the job after two of his fellow dispatchers reported he was snoring in the dispatch center and they twice had to wake him up. Sommefelt had previously been given a written warning for sleeping on the job. He was denied unemployment benefits.