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Waste Watch: City Of Austin Employees Getting Paid Not To Work
Whenever a police officer fires a weapon, they are automatically taken off the streets while the department investigates, to make sure the gunshot was justified. During that time, the officer is paid not to work - it's called administrative leave.
It's a benefit provided to all city workers.
"We use administrative leave for a real mix of different purposes," said Karen Sharp with the City of Austin Human Resources Department. "Most of those could be accounted for in terms of hours and not days."
KEYE-TV requested the total amount the City of Austin paid out in 2011 for administrative leave.
In February 2011, the City of Austin shut down its offices during an ice storm - and most of the non-emergency staff were paid administrative leave to stay at home.
Employees can also get paid to vote, give blood, or receive a recognition award.
The city manager approved leave for several city employees who lived in Bastrop during the Labor Day fires.
Add it all up: city workers were paid $2.9 million dollars in 2011 not to be at work.
"I think it's important to note that they have to receive approval from their supervisor to use that leave," said Sharp. "So it's not just wide open."
While $2.9 million dollars is a lot of money, the city has 13,150 and a $2 billion annual budget. The numbers show in 2011 6,511 city workers took paid administrative leave.
The biggest chunk came from Austin Energy, which is one of the city's largest departments. Seventy percent of Austin Energy workers claimed administrative leave in 2011, totaling more than $622,219.
A larger percentage - 80 percent - of Austin Water Utility - a department almost as large as Austin Energy - claimed administrative leave, totaling $426,090.
KEYE-TV wanted to know what other municipalities spent on paid administrative leave, so we headed north, to the city of Round Rock.
Round Rock has much smaller government - its staff is only 7 percent of the size of Austin's. But in 2011, it spent only $23,000 dollars on paid administrative leave - including its emergency workers. Even taking into account Round Rock's annual budget of $137 million, Round Rock spent a much, much smaller percentage than Austin.
The employee handbooks of the two cities are very similar with the same stipulations. But Austin's employees utilized the benefit more freely.
Sharp said the money paid for administrative leave is already budgeted for payroll. It isn't extra money coming out of the city's coffers.