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I-Team: Why Public Employees Are Getting Paid To Stay Home

By Karen Anderson, WBZ-TV
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BOSTON (CBS) – If you get upset when you hear about public employees accused of misconduct getting paid to stay home, you’re not alone.

Cities and towns shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to employees who have been charged with wrongdoing, including rape, drunk driving and selling drugs.

The reason? Government employees just have more rights than workers in the private sector.

An I-Team investigation found public employees in dozens of towns across the state — from Acton to Hingham, from Northbridge to Boston — sent home, accused of misconduct of all kinds, including crimes like theft, domestic assault and battery, extortion, drunk driving, and rape, all in just the last two years.

They are government employees ordered off the job, but still being paid their full salaries by cities and towns.

The cost? “It could be hundreds of thousands of dollars, that’s for sure,” says Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella.

Mazzarella put two employees on paid leave recently: a teacher charged with selling cocaine and a police officer accused of hurling racial slurs at former Red Sox outfielder Carl Crawford.

“Yeah, people get extremely upset when they find out somebody has been charged with something, if there has been an allegation sometimes very serious, and that that person might still be collecting a check,” Mazzarella says.

The mayor says he handles these situations on a case by case basis. For the police officer, it was a quick termination, but consider the secretary in the Newton Police Department whose been charged with stealing department money. She’s been on paid leave for 15 months now, at a cost of more than $75,000 to the city of Newton.

“In the end, the people who get cheated out of this are the taxpayer who have to finance this burden, no matter what happens,” says Mazzarella.

Barbara Anderson, who heads the budget watchdog group Citizens for Limited Taxation, points out that very often in the private sector, when someone commits some kind of misconduct, they’re simply fired.

“In the public sector,” Anderson says, “you’ve just got all these things standing between you and being able to get rid of an employee, no matter how provable his offense. And that’s a problem.”

But it’s reality. Boston attorney Thomas Donohue says most public employees, especially those in unions, have the right to a hearing before they can be fired. And if there’s a criminal case, investigators often ask local officials to hold off on holding hearings or taking any action against the employee.

“Often times the law enforcement agency doesn’t want their case played out before they get to the criminal court,” says Donohue.

To make matters even more complicated, there is no set of laws that tells local officials when to stop paying employees out on paid leave.

“Each case is different, and so applying one law to each different case would be difficult,” Donohue says.

Meanwhile, that police department secretary in Newton, who denies the charges against her, is still being paid every week as her case winds its way through the courts.

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