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Orange County

County Exec to Monitor Paid Leaves Closely

Jim Ruth promises to personally review extended absences of employees and will report to the board of supervisors regularly.

May 14, 2003|Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writer

Orange County's executive officer said Tuesday he personally will review each request to put an employee on extended paid leave in the wake of recent disclosures that the county lost nearly 22,000 workdays from such personnel in the last five years.

The decision by Jim Ruth, Orange County's interim executive officer, comes less than two weeks after the county reported to the Board of Supervisors that such paid leaves amounted to $5.8 million in salary and benefits.

County policy requires that both the county executive officer and the human resources director approve paid leaves that last longer than three weeks. But several extensions have been granted without the executive's approval, according to county personnel records.

At a meeting of the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Supervisor Chris Norby criticized the practice. "Hopefully, this will not continue," he said.

Several hours later, Ruth announced that he intended to follow the policy.

In the past, he said, the county's executive officer has delegated review of extended paid leaves to "the manager most knowledgeable about the issues."

Orange County, like many government agencies in California, often puts workers on paid leave while it investigates allegations of wrongdoing. The practice was used more often and for longer periods than some members of the Board of Supervisors were aware.

Norby and Supervisor Bill Campbell said they were concerned that some paid leaves lasted more than a year -- particularly at a time when the state budget crisis has the county exploring possible layoffs. They said the county needs to decide discipline cases much more quickly and not leave employees in limbo.

Campbell has asked Ruth to report to the board regularly about employees on paid leave.

Ruth said he intends "to look at this process and decide how it can best be handled in the future."

Paid leaves of absence have been issued most often in probation, sheriff's and district attorney's offices, according to county personnel records.

One district attorney employee, investigator Lyle Wilson, spent nearly two years on paid leave before he was fired in December. He faced several allegations of misconduct, including insubordination.

A probation officer spent nearly two years on leave for sharing confidential records with his wife. He was reinstated.

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