Admin. Leave Costs Taxpayers $1 Million

CALL7 Investigation Finds State Employees On Paid Leave For Months

In the past three years, state departments have spent more than $1 million paying employees on administrative leave – often allowing the employees to stay home for weeks or months with pay while their discipline is decided, a CALL7 Investigation found.

“We are talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money being used this way,” said state Sen. David Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, after 7NEWS showed him documents we obtained. “To me it’s appalling.”

Schultheis, who is chairman of the state audit committee, said taxpayers are also paying for more than just a salary and benefits of the person on leave.

“The cost of hiring employees to take over their spot, their positions, because they are gone for so long,” he said. “There are all sorts of things that are hidden costs in this thing.”

State records show that last year employees on paid administrative leave logged the largest number of hours away from work while their investigation was proceeding. Over the past three years, there were more than 4,500 days or 18 years worth of work hours paid in administrative leave and nearly half of those were last year.

For example, Ron Leyba, a former warden at the state Department of Corrections, was on leave for 10 months and paid his $114,000 a year salary during that time.

“I expected to come back to work,” said Leyba, who was fired soon after CALL7 Investigators started asking about long administrative leaves. “I asked to come back to work.”

Leyba admits he an affair with a subordinate, which is prohibited by D.O.C. policy, but he expected to be fined or receive a suspension like fellow employees investigated for similar misdeeds. Instead, he was placed on administrative leave in April and fired in early February – that, he says, despite the investigation in his case being completed in five weeks.

Leyba, who is now planning to marry his former subordinate, said his fiancée has been placed on administrative leave after 7NEWS started asking questions. He believes the state is using the leave to get people to quit.

“Do you think when they left you on administrative leave, they wanted you to quit,” asked CALL7 Investigator John Ferrugia.

“I think they did,” Leyba said. “It takes a tremendous toll on an individual -- especially one at my level -- personally and professionally.”

Leyba’s attorney, Jennifer Robinson, said she has had clients who have been on leave for as long as 18 months.

“They ultimately went back to work,” she said. “They found no violation.”

Robinson and Leyba, who himself placed people on administrative leave when he was warden, said there are no set rules on whether someone should go on leave during a disciplinary investigation except that the employee has to be a threat to the state or other employees. That decision is up to the supervisor.

“There does not appear to be a state standard for placing an employee on paid administrative leave,” Robinson said.

The Department of Personnel Administration, which collects the data on leaves, declined to provide 7NEWS any information except for numbers by department and a total salary paid. The first database DPA provide showed that last year there were 1,935 hours of administrative leave across various departments but subsequent data said it was 2,372. So it is unclear if the numbers DPA provided are accurate.

The total provided by DPA was more than $1,071,000 paid over the past three years and the average days of administrative leave was slightly more than 46 days. But the data also shows people on leave for as long as 140 and 190 days.

Each year, more than half of the employees are from the D.O.C., but D.O.C. is also one of the state’s largest departments.

DPA Executive Director Rich Gonzales declined to be interviewed about the issue.

But Schultheis said he would not only get the detailed data but also ask for an audit of the state’s leave policy.

“Why can’t you deal with the issue in a fairly short period of time, make the decision and move on?” he said. “Fire the person or put them back in the job.”

“Unless you brought it to me and showed me the facts … I wouldn’t have believed it was that bad,” Schultheis said.