A San Jose Inside reader wrote us this email: "Why hasn't there been an article regarding the pay-outs that Debra Figone got when she retired in December 2013? For a while, that was the 'big' news to keep the citizens riled up, the big payouts that police and fire personnel got! It would serve the citizens of San Jose well to know that the very person who was heading the cutting and slashing of city employee benefits, reaped some primo benefits herself!"
Ex-City Manager Debra Figone, who fought for years to limit the sick leave payout employees claimed upon retiring, cashed out $109,166 in unused hours when she left last December, according to city officials. Her vacation payout came in close to $40,000.
In the wake of economic recession, the city enacted wage freezes and pay cuts, but massive payouts of unused sick leave—especially for sworn personnel—put a pricey burden on taxpayers. The claims, mostly paid upon retirement, cost the city $7.8 million in 2008. Already much higher than comparable cities, that figure ticked up to $11.3 million the next year and kept climbing.
With those payouts—the highest amounting to more than $300,000 certain years—some employees took home a higher annual salary than Figone, the city’s chief executive. For reference, here's a look at the most recent calendar year of employee compensation, which shows former Police Chief Chris Moore cashed out $215,470 in sick leave and vacation pay.
Most of the costs went to retiring police officers, who, unlike civilian city workers, used to have unlimited sick-leave payouts. But that’s changed as of last summer. City spokesman Dave Vossbrink says the police union settled the matter through arbitration in 2013, putting cops on the same plan as civilian employees—a cap at number of hours accrued as of July last year and the salary rate in place at the time.
San Jose Firefighters Local 230 have yet to settle a new contract, so sick-leave payouts remain an open question.
“To have full context, it’s useful to keep in mind that the original goal of the payout benefit was to help reduce the use of overtime of other employees covering those who were out on sick leave,” Vossbrink says. “That would be impossible to calculate, however.”