News: Getting What They Pay For?

Inspector's indictment on bribery charge is latest image problem for emissions testing program

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Jymi Bolden


E-Check inspectors are hired without backbround checks at a starting pay rate of $6.50 an hour.



It started out with complaints about long lines, high fees and damaged cars. Next came complaints about errors and inaccurate results that led to a shut-down. Then it was re-implemented. Then came criminal charges against an E-Check inspector accused of taking a bribe.

E-Check, the automobile emissions test required of residents in Hamilton, Warren, Clermont and Butler counties, has had its share of critics and problems since it came to the area in November 1995.

E-Check was mandated by the Clean Air Act in an effort to reduce air pollution levels and avoid federal sanctions on businesses and motorists.

Now, an E-Check employee has been indicted on charges related to accepting money from an undercover inspector from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA), which oversees the E-Check program.

According to a written statement from Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen, Ronnie Clemons, an employee at the Blue Ash E-Check facility, tested the inspector's tampered vehicle and said that it would not pass. Clemons told the inspector that it would either take $1,000 to repair the vehicle or the inspector could pay $30 to another employee at the facility in order to assure a passing test, Allen said.

Later that day, the inspector returned to the facility with the same vehicle, and Clemons produced a vehicle inspection report, accepted $30 from the inspector and passed the vehicle without testing it, Allen's statement read.

This incident has raised questions about how closely scrutinized E-Check employees are before being hired.

Heidi Griesmer, OEPA spokeswoman, said the minimum hiring criteria of MARTA Technologies Inc. — the company that operates the 13 E-Check centers in Hamilton, Butler, Clermont and Warren Counties — is a driver's license and the ability to drive a car with a manual transmission.

MARTA administrators did not return three telephone messages to comment for this story. But Griesmer said that MARTA did not do background checks as part of the application process. Applicants must sign a "fraudulent test agreement" that states their employment would be terminated if they ever performed a fraudulent test, she said.

Lane inspectors, the employees who do the actual testing, are paid $6.50 an hour to start, $6.75 after six months and $7 after one year, Griesmer said.

Scott Milburn, spokesman for Gov. Bob Taft refused to comment on the whether MARTA's pay and screening standards were too low for employees who would be working in a regulatory capacity.

MARTA, Griesmer said, trains and certifies its employees and all of the training is approved by the OEPA.

"Once an employee is hired, they go through a lot of specialized training," she said. "All lane inspectors are certified by the contractor."

Griesmer said lane inspectors must undergo three days of classroom training and two days of lane training and must pass three tests before they are certified.

In addition to this training, OEPA field staff conducts several audits for quality assurance purposes, she said.

Daily audits are done at every station to time how long it takes to complete a test, note the number of employees present that day and the reason for any absences and the reason for any lane closings, she said.

Monthly audits include checking log books at each station to make sure equipment has been calibrated on a regular basis and performing equipment audits to ensure that equipment is working properly, she said. As was the case leading to last week's indictment, the OEPA performs covert audits to make sure that correct test procedures are used and that the test is working properly, she said. ©

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