Firefighter wins arbitration with 'everybody does it' excuse


Donald Munn is deluding himself if he really thinks he was vindicated by an arbitrator's opinion that gave him back his county firefighter's job.

The arbitrator concluded Munn played by the rules at that time and shouldn't have been fired a year ago by Chief Bertral Washington, primarily for abusing sick leave.

But playing by the rules and doing the right thing are two entirely different things.

Munn didn't do the right thing. He worked the system to get the maximum benefits possible. He cobbled together sick leave, vacation time and anti sign-up (meaning he was unavailable to be called in to work on those days), so he could escape our sweltering summers in 2009 and 2010.

Munn was smart enough to avoid violating the rule that mattered most: He never took more than three sick leave shifts in a row. That would have violated the collective bargaining contract rules and regulations, which even arbitrator Michael Rappaport described as "liberal policies."

Munn said he needed the time off to care for his handicapped and sometimes violent 21-year-old son Brian, whom he and his wife adopted at 2 months old. The Las Vegas summer heat makes Brian's condition worse, so Munn did what he could to snag the time to take the family to their summer home in Utah.

Now, I respect anyone who adopts a disabled child.

But Munn had to know that his sick leave absences meant that other firefighters worked and were paid time and a half to cover his straight time off. Apparently, that didn't matter to Munn.

Munn testified he didn't think he was abusing sick leave because nobody up the chain of command told him he was abusing it or warned him he could be fired for that. His battalion chief said nothing and approved Munn's requests for time off.

Frankly, that battalion chief carries some blame for wasting tax dollars.

Some could have figured out they were scamming the system without being told. But Munn's defense was that what he did was commonplace in the fire department - the childish "everybody does it" excuse.

He said during his 18 years as a firefighter, it was routine within the department to use sick leave to take time off for whatever reason, even if the firefighter or a family member wasn't sick.

Munn's big mistake was putting his sick leave/vacation scheme into a retrievable county email.

In May 2009, he offered to switch vacation time to sick time so someone else could take vacation time: "We are going away for the whole month, but if a couple of those days will help you I can call in sick."

In June 2009, he wrote another email that started off: "Just a note before I leave for the summer."

I found those emails damning evidence of sick leave abuse. Arbitrator Rappaport did not. But he decided they were evidence Munn didn't use good judgment and created an appearance of impropriety worthy of a written reprimand.

Munn's use of a county computer was the only one of a handful of violations alleged that the arbitrator found worthy of upholding. But Munn didn't deserve to be fired for that, Rappaport ruled.

While the emails certainly raised suspicions, the arbitrator said the county didn't prove its case. It built the case "largely based on speculation and conjecture," Rappaport said, and that's not enough to fire someone.

Nobody ends up looking good here, not Munn and not the county.

Happily, the collective bargaining contract is more restrictive today. After five sick days in a year, a doctor's note is required.

Munn may return to his job, but he won't be preplanning sick days around his regular days off and heading to Utah while taxpayers pay extra for someone to fill his job.

Jane Ann Morrison's column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/morrison.

 

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