If you follow the news at all you’re probably familiar with the following scenario. A story hits the news cycle about a police officer, municipal worker or aide to some elected official who has been implicated in or charged with a crime or other questionable activity. You don’t want a person under such circumstances being left on the job if they’re potentially up to no good so they wind up being placed on “administrative leave” and it’s very often paid leave. But what happens after that? Some of these investigations can drag on forever, so what happens to the government employee while that’s going on?
In the city of Boston, some reporters set out to find the answer and, at least in Beantown, it’s probably not a very good one from the taxpayer’s point of view. As they discovered, some of these accused individuals remain in this administrative no man’s land for months or even years on end, many collecting full benefits and generous salaries the entire time. We begin with the story of former Boston police lieutenant John Earley who, back in 2015, allegedly left a pub one night, jumped in his pickup truck and crashed into a backhoe that was cleaning up snow from the streets. He was then accused of fleeing the scene. The department brought charges against him and placed him on paid administrative leave. Guess what happened next. (CBS Boston, emphasis added)
In June 2016, a Boston judge dismissed the case, ruling prosecutors had not proven Earley was behind the wheel of his vehicle that night. However, BPD’s internal affairs investigation into the veteran cop continued. In July 2017, the department fired Earley.
By that time, he’d collected checks while staying at home for almost 900 days, earning more than $355,000 during his stint on paid administrative leave.
That was the highest amount received by a City of Boston employee over the past three years, according to records the WBZ I-Team obtained.
Earley was far from the only recipient of such taxpayer largess in this report. Two of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s top aides were under investigation as part of a federal extortion case and remained on paid leave for two years. They collected $410K during that extended vacation. There are many more examples, but the report found that the average duration of a municipal employee on paid administrative leave was nine months and the average compensation they received during that time was $72K. In just the past three years, Boston taxpayers have shelled out five million dollars for paid administrative leave.
If you don’t happen to have a government job, you’re probably wondering how this happens. In the private sector, if you’re under investigation for something awful and it’s a source of embarrassment to your employer, you will likely be unemployed in short order and hoping you qualify for unemployment. But these city workers have powerful unions with rigid contracts making it almost impossible to fire them or even put them on unpaid leave.
Boston Police Commissioner William Evans was asked about the situation and if he thought it should be this way. He claims he doesn’t like it more than anyone else, but what’s a civil servant to do?
Evans also said police officers have due process rights spelled out by collective bargaining agreements and civil service rules. Only when officers are criminally indicted can they be placed on unpaid leave.
“I think we are doing a good job policing our officers and are not afraid to bring them to court,” Evans expressed. “We are not brooming these cases. Do I wish it went quicker? Yeah, I wish there was a better way.”
When asked if the lengthy paid leave stints are just something taxpayers have to accept, Evans responded, “No, I’m not saying accept it because we can always improve and we’ll look to improve.”
He wishes there were a better way. May I humbly offer a suggestion? Get a representative of the taxpayers at the table when the public unions are negotiating these contracts rather than just the politicians who accept huge donations from their unions. You might be shocked at the results.