Top lawyer for controller benefits from much-criticized state perk

Top lawyer for controller benefits from much-criticized state perk

dollar.CAThe state government’s practice of letting workers defy official state policy and pile up unused vacation days and cash them in upon retirement has been criticized on and off for years. California government watchdogs and journalists have outlined the budget problems this causes and noted other states have much different approaches. Now the Center for Investigative Reporting has a new study out that shows how extensive the problem has become — and how one of the worst abusers is a top official at an agency that’s supposed to push financial discretion and integrity:

Tens of thousands of state employees have exceeded the official limit of 80 banked vacation days, leaving the state on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars.

What are the names of the workers at the top of the list? The State Controller’s Office, which collects the information and generally prides itself on transparency, wouldn’t say.

Rick Chivaro, the controller’s top lawyer, said he considered the information confidential, even though his office routinely discloses salaries of state workers by name.

It turns out that one of the two top vacation troves belongs to Chivaro himself. By June of last year, he had saved up 498 days of vacation, more than six times the limit. If he retired with that much time off, Chivaro could cash out $317,000 ­­– nearly two years of pay.

The Center for Investigative Reporting was able to identify a few of the state’s biggest vacation misers by their pay rates and job titles, information provided by Chivaro in response to a public records request. …

Two and a half years ago, the controller’s office criticized the California Lottery Commission for failing to enforce the state vacation cap among its employees. Yet the controller’s office employs 48 individuals with at least twice the maximum vacation days, the data shows. Seven of them, including its chief of human resources, had more vacation on the books than anyone at the Lottery Commission.

Who is overseeing the overseers?

As Cal Watchdog has pointed out repeatedly, a fundamental problem in trying to rein in the cost of government pensions and perks is that the officials who should be cracking down on the abuses have a financial incentive to look the other way or to downplay problems. The CIR report touched on this angle:

“Wow. That’s just wrong,” said Joe Nation, professor of the practice of public policy at Stanford University. “Anyone on the inside or the outside (of government) knows that that’s wrong.”

Nation, a former state lawmaker and municipal water board president, said it’s especially inappropriate for senior managers in salaried positions to “be able to take advantage of and abuse rules like this.”

What would a more reasonable policy look like? The CIR offers some larger context, than points to another big state:

Workers across the country make do with a finite amount of vacation. Many companies, and some states, have use-it-or-lose-it policies that keep employees from carrying over endless amounts of vacation.

In New York, for example, state workers can’t roll over more than 40 days and get paid out for up to 30 days if they quit or retire. At the stingy end of the spectrum, many employers don’t let workers save any unused time off at all, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management.

As for unlimited stockpiling of vacation, “I’ve never seen it in the private sector,” said Bruce Elliott, manager of compensation and benefits for the Virginia-based organization. “It’s crazy to do that if you don’t expect a big expense.”

10 comments

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  1. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 14 January, 2015, 14:47

    498 days = 100 work weeks. Chivaro has been an attorney since 1986, 29 years. If he was HIRED in 1986, he would have had to bank 17-18 days (3.5 weeks) PER YEAR, EVERY YEAR, for 29 years to get to the 498 days of banked vacation. I know these yahoo’s in trough feeder land get much more vacation than the private sector, actually much more of everything, but unless Chivaro received 6-8 weeks of vacation since the year he stared it would be impossible to bank that many days. I remember assistant city manager Angela Spaccia at Bell had 300 days of vacation banked, even though her father was sick and she did not go to work for 18 months during a 2 year period, which means she was taking her vacation and other time off but not recording it. I am sure this is COMMON with all the high level managers in trough feeder land that have no one above them to stop this scam. Sort of like the CHP’s “chief’s disease” where the upper level brass all develop a “disability” (from falling out of a swivel chair) during their final 12 months on the job so they collect half their pension tax free.

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  2. John Galt
    John Galt 14 January, 2015, 16:41

    One way to properly control and prioritize spending is to provide fewer funds for these jokers to spend. Is it time for a new “Prop 13” which lowers property taxes from its present 1.0% to a lower 0.50% of assessed value? Real estate values in California have escalated significantly from the mid- 1970s when Prop 13 was adopted. With the rapid increase in market values came the unexpected development of new tax-funded state and local government regulatory agencies further burdening individual and commercial enterprise activities and net earnings. Making tax funds more scarce will force prioritizing, rationing funds to only essential activities, and ultimately push salaries, benefits and pensions of state and local government employees lower than private sector earnings. Paying government workers more than their private sector equals is insane as private sector employees, and their employers, are the origins of all public sector funds. Government wages and percs should always max out at less than the private sector in order to keep systems in balance and growing.

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  3. desmond
    desmond 14 January, 2015, 18:29

    A friend’s dad said he was taking most Fridays and Monday’s off for the last year and a half, before retirement and would get a year of banked time when he leaves.. He is amazed at all the wealth of people not in govt work and believes his arrangement is modest. Just another member of the most hated generation. I am hoping he has a brain aneurysm his last day of work. Sweet.

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    • SeeSaw
      SeeSaw 16 January, 2015, 12:18

      Well, my vacation cap was 400 hours, which required 20 years’ continuous service to attain–that is 50 days and it was enforced. Does that entitle me to not have an aneurysm?

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      • Rex the Wonder Dog!
        Rex the Wonder Dog! 16 January, 2015, 15:34

        For some reason this scam seems to be more limited than the other public employee scams. One reason is because I think only upper level managers, with no one above them really monitoring them or their time off (like Angela Spaccia) can get away with it. So the peons like you seesaw are left out in the cold. Please don’t have an aneurysm… I need you comments for their entertainment value 🙂

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  4. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 14 January, 2015, 23:58

    Desi,

    You sound like your tired of dumpster diving for lollipops!

    Reply this comment
  5. john
    john 15 January, 2015, 20:01

    Gov on all levels in this country has become corrupt. The country is in a tailspin economically and our dollar will soon be good only for lining bird cages; we have printed over 4 trillion dollars of funny money under Bernanke and that maneuver will come back to help bring this country to the brink of financial collapse. So even the piggies that the article talks about will be broke like everyone regardless of how much money they can get their hands on; the money will be worthless.

    Reply this comment
  6. desmond
    desmond 16 January, 2015, 03:42

    Ted Queeg Ahaul, Do you have anything substantive to inject into the conversation?

    Reply this comment
  7. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 16 January, 2015, 09:50

    Ted Queeg Ahaul, Do you have anything substantive to inject into the conversation?

    Teddy Steals says Marbury v. Madison was the very FIRST case ever decided by the United States Supreme Court, and Ted is NEVER wrong 🙂

    Reply this comment
  8. fletch92131
    fletch92131 16 January, 2015, 17:34

    if the government was interested in solving this problem, they would mandate a rule that more than certain number of banked hours would go on unrecorded/unpaid. I bet you that will solve the problem right away! When I was a fed, there was no such crap about banking hours.

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