and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

The Boston Herald
Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Hub coughs up big bucks in sick time
Critics call for changes to buyback system
By Jessica Fargen

The Menino administration - mulling parking fine hikes and other measures to stave off a budget crisis - shelled out a whopping $33 million in sick time and vacation day buybacks to city managers and employees - a perk seldom seen in the private sector, a Herald review of the past five years shows.

The bulk of the Boston buybacks, $23 million, were for unused sick time, allowing some retiring city managers and workers to enter their golden years with six-figure checks.

Among the biggest beneficiaries of the buyback bonanza:

= Former police commissioner Paul Evans, who got $138,461, including $64,000 in sick time.

= Former fire commissioner Paul Christian, who got $133,275, including $92,661 in sick time.

= Former public works commissioner Joseph Casazza, who received $82,105, including $63,883 in sick time.

“There ought to be more focus on strong administration of sick time and holding people more accountable - better management as opposed to a carrot and a stick,” said Sam Tyler, head of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau.

Added Bill Ahern, of the Tax Foundation, a Washington, D.C., fiscal watchdog group: “Local government should consider if they are offering too much. This is never seen in the private sector.”

A Herald review of sick time and vacation buybacks from 2003 to 2007 also found:

Boston fire department brass and jakes received $11.3 million, including $7.9 million in sick time.

Police department brass and officers cashed in $7.7 million, including $4.8 million in sick time.

School officials and teachers chalked up $8.6 million in sick and vacation buybacks.

The vacation and sick time budget-buster comes at a time when the city has been forced to bail out the school department with a $10 million gift to stave off teacher layoffs.

All the more reason, says Tyler, to rachet up the oversight - not the perks. “This is a policy that needs to be revisited,” he said.

Dot Joyce, spokeswoman for Mayor Thomas M. Menino, said the mayor’s main focus during contract talks with city unions was health insurance, but that he is always looking to save money.

“We will evaluate what the new issues will be in our contracts when they are due up again” in three to four years, she said. “We’re always looking for ways to reduce the cost of doing business.”

Thomas Nee, president of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, said it costs the city more to pay a replacement officer overtime than it does to buy back unused sick time from a retiring employee. Sick time buybacks for cops are capped at 40 percent of 200 days - 80 days. Up to two weeks of unused vacation time can be paid out annually, Nee said.

“This isn’t a radical concept. It allows employees to sell back their collectively bargained benefits at significant savings to the municipality,” he said.

At the Boston Fire Department, employees can accrue a maximum of 2,880 sick leave hours; upon retirement, they can get credit for 35 percent of those. “It was something management looked at as a cost-savings,” said Ed Kelly, of Boston Firefighter’s Local 718.

Boston school employees who retire, resign or die after 10 years of service can get compensated at the rate of 40 percent for unused sick days without limit, according to the teachers union.

Jonathan Palumbo, school department spokesman, called the policy an “incentive” for employees not to miss work.

Joe Dwinell contributed to this report.





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