Palm Beach County employees paid to do nothing

Employees on paid leave still reaping the benefits

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - The Contact 5 Investigators calculated the pay earned by county workers place on paid administrative leave and found, since 2008, county taxpayers have paid these employees more than $457,000 in salary and benefits. That's an expense you paid for so county workers can sit home and do absolutely no county work.

"Well, it sounds like a lot of money," says county human resources director, Wayne Condry.  Condry explains, county employees can be placed on paid leave for a variety of reasons, but typically, "paid administrative leave is for the investigation of possible misconduct on the job and typically, as well, it's done in anticipation of a termination hearing," he said.

Condry says when an employee is under heat, he or she can be more costly staying on the job.

"We've had a history of employees destroying county property, we've had a history of employees mysteriously injuring themselves on the job."

Contact 5 Investigator Katie LaGrone asked Condry why the county doesn't reassign employees to other duties pending the investigations.

Why not just put these employees on other duties so at least they are productive and doing something? she asked.

"A simple job and productive seem easy to say but difficult to do.  Employee skills aren't necessarily transferable.  The county doesn't have a lot of 'sit in a file room and file all day long' kinds of jobs," he said.

After analyzing the data, the Contact 5 Investigators learned employees can be placed on paid administrative leave for anywhere from just a few hours, to nearly a year!

Wendy Otano and Ladonna Booth were placed on paid administrative leave after they were accused of skirting county ordering policies and falsifying documents.  The two, along with one other employee from the Water Utilities Department, were placed on paid administrative leave in July of 2010.

"Nope, I'm not working for the county," said Ladonna Booth. 

"But you're still getting paid?" she was asked.

"Yes, I'm still getting paid.  I know, it's shocking I've been on paid adminstrative leave for almost a year."

County taxpayers like Lilly Larson couldn't believe what we told her.

"9 months? Are you serious?  That's unbelievable, that's just sad," she told the Contact 5 Investigators.

If that gets your attention, consider this:  While these 3 water utilities employees were out for 9 months, you paid them a total of $128,000 in salary and benefits.

Condry was asked,  "Do you think that's a waste of taxpayer dollars?"

"I think it goes without saying, it's 9 months without you doing any work. I don't think anybody thinks that's a great idea," he said.

Condry says the water utilities case was unique.  It involved serious workplace violations and what shuffled, for months, between the county's Inspector General and the State Attorney's office.   But Inspector General, Sheryl Steckler, says her office didn't spend more than 30-60 days on the case. The rest of the time was spent either at the State Attorney's office or delayed by the subjects under investigation.  Steckler believes the employees should never have been placed on paid leave to begin with.

"The county panicked, they just got these people out of there and didn't know what to do and then just didn't bring them back. Why? i can't answer that, it doesn't make sense to me why they didn't bring them back and give them other job duties," she said.

"That's something we have to work out with the IG moving forward.   This was one of their first investigations. But, yes,  they shouldn't have been out for 9 months," said Condry.

Wendy Otano also agrees it was a waste.

"Yes, I'm a taxpayer too and yes it is," she said.

In the end, one of the employees was exonerated and returned to work.  Wendy Otano and Ladonna Booth did not.  While the final investigation showed they did not do anything illegal, they were fired for violating county policies.

Of course, not before they got paid, 9 months to do nothing.

"This is outrageous, outrageous!  Just terrible, I will do something about it," said taxpayer Jeanne

For a break down of employee paid leave salaries click here.

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