MIAMI - They are striking numbers -- tens of millions of dollars were dealt out to Miami-Dade County employees who are not working their assigned jobs. The majority of it was approved by Mayor Carlos Gimenez.
When asked whether he believes it was wasteful in any way, the mayor said, "Absolutely not."
The numbers come from a four-month Local 10 investigation. Documents obtained from the county show that $21,046,916 in tax money was spent on administrative leave in 2013. County rules define administrative leave as "time excused from work with pay."
Some of that was for regular business items like funeral leave, military duty or contractual union activity. The majority of that money -- $11,261,073 -- was used, though, for discretionary items authorized by Gimenez.
"We're getting a pretty good deal out of that," Gimenez said.
He said this type of leave is generally given to those who have actually paid a price, in advance, by working extra hours.
"So, in other words, if somebody put in 60 hours in a week, you don't get overtime for that," the mayor said. "So you get some time off for that, which kind of balances it all out."
County records show, though, that he authorized at least $2,518,120 last year for extra time off on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, and not for overtime. That was in addition to the nine other standard holidays that county rules already give employees.
"Why did you authorize $2.5 million in extra holidays?" Local 10's Ross Palombo asked.
"That's been a policy with the county as long as I can remember," Gimenez said.
"You don't think it's wasteful in any way?" Palombo asked.
"Absolutely not," Gimenez replied.
The mayor also doesn't think it is wasteful that Deputy Mayor Ed Marquez was given the most administrative leave of his staff. Records show he received 168 hours of paid time off during the last two years, worth $21,566. That was in addition to Marquez's $267,000 annual salary and two weeks of regular vacation time earned.
"Is it fair that he should get two weeks more?" Palombo asked.
"If he puts in that additional time, which he does -- way above and beyond 80 hours -- yes," Gimenez said.
Some, though, do not think that is fair. A county library worker would only speak with Local 10 on the condition that her identity would not be revealed because she fears retribution.
"It doesn't seem fair," the worker said.
She was particularly disturbed because her department has been facing budget cuts.
"He's using bad judgment," she said about the mayor. "And it shows hypocrisy. At the same time, he's using his discretion to give gifts."
A county official said Marquez was given the administrative leave "in order to mirror the four weeks of vacation employees with 20 years of experience get." As a former county employee and a re-hire Marquez does have that combined experience, but not from "continuous" service as county rules require.
"Should it be investigated?" Palombo asked the librarian.
"Definitely," she said.
"It's not unfair," Gimenez said. "It's fair. And he's a great employee who works more than the 80 hours that he gets."
Gimenez also said the money spent on administrative leave is not additional money paid to the employees, but rather time off while they're being paid their regular salary.
Marquez tells his part of the story Tuesday night on Local 10 News at 11 p.m.
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