My Most Expensive Mistake

There is the old idea that if you make a mistake at work that costs your employer money, that you should reimburse the employer. I do not subscribe to this idea, and this is why. Here is the mistake I made that cost the University money:

Parking is at a premium for my university, and so is space, so we had been operating a Park & Ride Shuttle service from our stadium parking, a mile from the main campus. My new manager decided to ramp up usage by offering free parking at the Park & Ride for the first two weeks of school. The idea was that if people got used to parking there, they might continue and that would reduce the overcrowded parking at the main campus.

When I moved into my position as “Assistant Parking Manager,” I had received about an hour’s worth of instruction. Oddly enough, POST doesn’t have a course in parking management. One of the things that I was told was that if I needed additional contract buses and bus drivers, that I should call “John.” There was a post-it note on my new desk with John’s name and phone number. That was it. I didn’t even know the name of the contract company until I called John to introduce myself and explain that I was the new Assistant Parking Manager.

The first day of school was a disaster. We had three university owned buses and drivers working, as well as three contract buses and drivers, and lines of people waiting. It was taking as long as 40 minutes to an hour to get to school…a mile away. Students resorted to walking the mile to the main campus. While I know that is not a hardship, I’m sure it would not encourage them to use the Park & Ride in the future.

The Chief of Police called me directly and ordered me to get more buses. I called John and asked for buses and drivers. He asked me how many and I told him, all you’ve got. Within two hours, we had everything down to a manageable wait time and students were getting to class without problems. But the demand didn’t die down after first two weeks of school. In fact, use of the Park & Ride Lot remained high, filling regularly and requiring the use of additional contract buses and drivers.

In October, the department’s Fiscal Services Manager called me and asked me where we were on the budget for buses and drivers.


The discussion went like this:

Me. “I don’t know. What is the budget?”

FSM/ “You don’t know the budget?”

Me. “No, isn’t that what you do?”

FSM. “No, I call you and ask you and you tell me and I keep track of where we are at.”

Me. “Oh.”

FSM. “Well, how much are we paying for buses and drivers?”

Me. “I don’t know.”

FSM. “Well, what does the contract say?”

Me. “What contract?”

FSM. “Don’t you have a contract?”

Me. “I don’t know. I don’t have one.”

FSM. “What do you have?”

Me. “Um…a post-it with a name and phone number.”

Long pause.

FSM. “Okay, I’ll take care of it.” He hung up.

I had been a police officer for six years and a supervisor for two and nothing in my police supervision training or experience had prepared me for this conversation. I thought I was going to get a letter of reprimand for this, minimum.

The following week the Fiscal Services Manager called me back. He told me that I was paying $38 an hour per bus and $28 an hour per driver. He told me that my budget for buses and drivers was $50,000 a year and that only eight weeks into the school year, I had spent $78,000. I was currently on track to spend in excess of a quarter of a million dollars OVER budget.

Now I was certain I was going to be fired.

Ultimately, it was determined that the need for the extra budget was there to get the Park & Ride Lot used effectively and they increased the budget. However, if it had gone the other way, as bureaucracies are sometimes wont to do, I could have been responsible for a $250,000 mistake.

As a state employee, I would have had to sell a couple of my children to pay that debt back.