MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota and its local governments have been shelling out millions of taxpayer dollars to public employees to stay away from their jobs while they’re being investigated for allegations of misconduct, wrongdoing or crimes, according to a TV station.
KARE-TV obtained public records that show the Twin Cities paid more than $3.7 million to workers over the past three years during internal investigations. The state is estimated to have paid out millions more in administrative leave to its employees, though state officials don’t track details of the spending.
The station found that the investigations sometimes lasted for months and even years, such as the case of former Ramsey County Correctional Officer Travis VanDeWiele.
VanDeWiele, who is white, was charged with misdemeanor assault for kneeing and punching a handcuffed black suspect in 2016. He spent more than two years on paid leave and received roughly $121,000 during the investigation into the incident, which was caught on video.
VanDeWiele eventually pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. He resigned in February.
“Well, I think it’s a scandal,” said John Hinderaker, president of conservative Minnesota think tank Center of the American Experiment. “I think people are rightly outraged when they find out that many public employees in this state are being paid literally to stay away from their jobs — often because they’re being investigated for really serious wrongdoing.”
Former State Auditor Rebecca Otto said administrative leave can be a critical tool to protect public employees from baseless allegations, but she warned that investigations “need to be done in a timely manner.”
Otherwise the administrative leave pay can drain valuable resources, she added.
The issue has faced scrutiny from lawmakers across the country, including Iowa’s Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley who’s called for a federal crackdown on agencies that abuse paid leave.
Grassley and Wisconsin’s Republican Sen. Ron Johnson were behind bipartisan legislation to limit federal employees from being placed on extended leave. The Administrative Leave Act has been in effect since 2017.
“Paying government employees to stay at home not only robs taxpayers of millions of dollars each year, it allows agencies to drag their feet in taking disciplinary action,” Johnson said.