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Clark County ends firefighters’ sick leave probe

Clark County officials said Thursday they have finished their internal probe into sick leave abuse in the Fire Department and have imposed penalties on those they determined broke the rules.

There will be no firings beyond Battalion Chief Renee Dillingham and firefighter Donald Munn, who recently were terminated after managers confirmed they misused sick leave.

"None of the remaining 12 cases yielded evidence warranting termination," county spokesman Erik Pappa said in an emailed statement.

Pappa later said in an interview that the lesser punishments such as demotion and forfeiture of sick days would not be disclosed because of personnel privacy rules.

With some of the firefighters, the county could find no evidence of abuse, Pappa said.

In addition to the dozen cases, some firefighters suspected of misusing sick leave quit or retired before an investigation could be finished, Pappa said.

FBI and police will continue their inquiry into whether any of the firefighters’ actions were criminal.

Their investigation includes sifting through half a million emails and documents.

Pappa said officials couldn’t comment on any law enforcement activity.

Commissioner Steve Sisolak, who pushed for investigations into potential abuse, said he strongly disagreed with withholding the names of those punished and cleared.

"I’m very disappointed," Sisolak said. "It should be made public."

Taxpayers have a right to know who took advantage of the system, and the firefighters who were exonerated should have their names cleared publicly, Sisolak said.

He planned to talk to county managers about releasing the names.

Using sick leave as vacation rather than for medical problems violates the labor contract and county policy.

Firefighters’ sick leave can be costly because tight staffing often requires those who fill in for co-workers to be paid overtime, and usually for 24-hour shifts.

Most firefighters who return to work less than 12 hours after finishing a shift qualify for callback pay, in which a portion of that day’s earnings goes toward pensions.

Last year, overtime helped push firefighters’ average wages to $130,000 and battalion chiefs’ average pay to $180,000.

Commissioner Tom Collins said that the internal investigation turned up a handful of wrongdoers, which he said was a far cry from the 230 who were publicly put under suspicion six months ago.

"I think I’ve said all along it wasn’t as rampant as pushed," Collins said. "It was a handful. The damaged reputation of our Fire Department was unfounded. This proves it."

Commissioner Mary Beth Scow said county leaders investigated the potential abuse thoroughly and meted out punishments that should discourage future abuse.

The Fire Department’s sick leave use has dropped significantly in the past six months, a sign that the crackdown is sending a message, Scow said.

"I think everybody knows from this point on it’s not tolerated," she said.

Contact reporter Scott Wyland at swyland@reviewjournal.com or 702-455-4519.

 

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