FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - Maybe you heard of the Kentucky juvenile justice worker who was accused of the rape and sodomy of a boy she was supposed to be counseling. What you didn't hear was that counselor Gerri Mesmer was sent home before she was fired, and paid for four-and-a-half months, collecting more than $14,000.
Maybe you heard about the Kentucky conservation officer fired and fined $10,000 for allegedly making $40,000 in a side business selling caviar by fishing in restricted waters. What you didn't hear was that Dennis Sharon had an easier time paying that $10,000 because he collected more than $28,000 after he was sent home and paid in full for 10 months.
Mesmer and Sharon are far from the only people benefiting from these kinds of deals. At the height of a budget crisis and service cutbacks in state government, a WAVE 3 News investigation found the state regularly pays employees not to work.
In 2011 and 2012 alone:
158 state executive branch employees were paid to stay home.
95 of them – almost two-thirds – were on paid leave for more than a month.
48 were paid for more than two months.
21 were paid for more than three months.
10 were paid between four months and 10 months.
A total of 5,133 days were paid for paid leave.
How much did that practice cost taxpayers? The Personnel Cabinet said it "does not have the resources to assist in this research, nor is it required to." So I looked up each worker's salary and calculated the cost of paid leave, which totaled $677,774.
What is paid leave? There are two types in Kentucky:
"Special Investigative leave" is for "investigating alleged misconduct."
"Paid administrative leave" is paid after the "intent to dismiss" notice is sent out.
I asked Kentucky Legal Services Director Dinah Bevington why they continue to pay employees who have already been paid under investigative leave and have been notified they are fired.
"That is something the legislature approved two years ago," Bevington said. "It's discretionary. Not everyone uses it, but in instances where they've already been on investigative leave, there's been some significant misconduct, and in these instances it is probably most appropriate for administrative leave to also be used."
We showed our findings to three state lawmakers from Louisville.
"The fact that there are not any parameters established by the Personnel Cabinet to protect taxpayer dollars for this sort of excessiveness was surprising to me," said Republican State Representative Julie Raque Adams.
"Why are the leaves so long?" asked Republican State Senator Julie Denton. "These are taxpayer dollars, and we need to be good stewards of these dollars, and we need to make sure we're doing these investigations quickly and getting results quickly, not paying people thousands, sometimes tens of thousands to sit home."
"My first reaction was somewhat angry," said Democratic State Representative Tom Burch. "I was a manager at GE for 39 years, and we would never tolerate anything like that."
"This isn't the non-government world," said Bevington. "These are public sector employees who have additional rights, and an agency must fully investigate and come forward with every factual allegation they have, and an employee has proper due process opportunity to be heard."
"I think now that you've brought this to light, I'm sure there will be more people looking into this," said Adams.
The Personnel Cabinet said paid leave accounts for .0003 percent of the overall working time logged by state workers.
To view a list that we obtained of state government employees who were paid not to work, click here.
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