Donald Munn is a poster boy, a pinata and a lightning rod. Depending on how you look at the facts, he’s either the unluckiest, most persecuted public employee of our time or Taxpayer Enemy No. 1.
Regardless of your perspective, you just paid him five figures to finally go away.
Munn is the Clark County firefighter who was at the center of the department’s sick-leave abuse scandal. He was fired in 2011 after a lengthy investigation determined firefighters had coordinated their sick leave, sometimes scheduling it well in advance, allowing fill-in firefighters to pick up overtime wages. Munn had emailed colleagues about his plans to use sick leave to help him take most of the summer of 2010 off. He then called in sick on 11 of his 18 scheduled 24-hour shifts and used 15 vacation days over three months.
But Munn was reinstated in 2012 by an arbitrator and received back pay. He then filed a federal lawsuit against the county alleging defamation, violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act, due process and potential violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Last week, the county agreed to settle that lawsuit for $50,000 in exchange for Munn’s resignation.
So, did Munn successfully game the system not once, not twice, but three times? Did he collect on bogus sick leave, turn his firing into another long paid vacation, then cash in on a garbage lawsuit? Or did he collect less than what he deserved for a beatdown in the court of public opinion?
His attorney, Andrew Rempfer, points out that Munn injured his back in a 2009 fall from a ladder and was still covered by a workers’ compensation claim at the time of his firing. Moreover, he used much of his sick leave to help his wife care for their adopted son, who is developmentally disabled as a result of fetal alcohol syndrome. The arbitrator who ordered Munn’s rehiring cited his son’s needs and said the county failed to prove Munn’s sick claims violated policy.
Rempfer added that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found cause that Munn had been discriminated against because of his son’s condition.
If you have any sympathy for Munn’s circumstances, go back and read his emails. In one, he actually advised a co-worker on how to claim sick leave for a previously scheduled vacation. And Munn basically admitted that everyone in the department did the same thing. Sick calls within the department dropped by tens of thousands of hours once the abuse was brought to light and leave policies were reformed.
Since his 2012 reinstatement, Munn has worked as an “administrative firefighter,” not a suppression firefighter. It’s a designation tied to disability. Because of the back injury and a heart condition related to stress, Munn can’t carry out normal firefighting duties, Rempfer said.
“He’s basically a courier, kind of a hockey mom,” Rempfer said. “He just does whatever needs to be done.” Munn’s disability claims for those ailments are pending, Rempfer said.
For that work, according to the county, Munn collected total wages and benefits of $227,437 in 2013 and $202,530 in 2012. And Munn’s designation left the department understaffed, leading to otherwise unnecessary overtime. Clark County spokesman Erik Pappa said this was a consideration in the lawsuit settlement, because Munn’s exit will allow the county “to fill the vacated position with a suppression firefighter that can fill a full-time firefighter shift.”
Because Munn is older than 50 and just completed his 20th year on the job (on paper, anyway), he’s eligible to immediately collect his pension.
This kind of sustained assault on taxpayers isn’t coincidental. It’s cultural. Munn is just one more beneficiary.
Never forget this: Your elected officials at the city, county and state levels have made this abuse possible. They have rigged the game so the public always loses. Always.
Next week: The five worst taxpayer nightmares of 2013.
Glenn Cook (email@example.com) is the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s senior editorial writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Glenn_CookNV. Listen to him Mondays at 4 p.m., resuming Jan. 6, on “Live and Local with Kevin Wall” on KXNT News Radio, 100.5 FM, 840 AM.
Review-Journal political columnist Steve Sebelius is on vacation and will return Jan. 7.