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John Dantis Could Walk With $160K

Copyright © 2010 Albuquerque Journal
By 2010 Dan McKay And Jeff Proctor
Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writers

          Deputy County Manager John Dantis could walk away with a check for more than $160,000 when he retires this summer.
        That's because the county's personnel regulations allow employees to be paid for unused annual vacation leave and sick time, and deputy county managers and department heads are allowed to accumulate unlimited amounts.
        Most unclassified employees — typically professional or managerial positions outside the civil service system —are capped at nine weeks of annual leave. There is no cap on sick leave for unclassified employees.
        In Dantis' case, he has about 1,510 hours of annual vacation right now, which would be worth $82,000 at his current pay rate. He has another 1,538 hours of unused sick time, which would be worth $84,000.
        Dantis might choose other options in lieu of a big check when he retires, county spokeswoman Liz Hamm said. Some employees opt to use a "deferred compensation" program, she said, but details weren't available.
        Dantis, of course, could also draw down his leave balances throughout the month. His retirement is effective July 30.
        In any case, Hamm said, Dantis would be treated like any other similar employee.
        Caps sought
        County Commission Chairman Art De La Cruz said the county should reinstitute caps on the amount of leave that top employees can accumulate and said he will push for a vote on it. He said it's a topic he's brought up with staff in the past.
        "While the county is generally fiscally conservative," he said in a written statement, "this situation does not seem fiscally prudent. Apparently at some point a past commission allowed the removal of leave caps for some county positions. I have requested that this situation be rectified and fair and reasonable caps regarding leave be reinstituted."
        Dantis said the demands of the job make it difficult to use annual leave.
        "The interesting thing about public safety," he said, "is it operates on a 24-7 clock. There are numerous days that I sometimes never went home."
        He added that he worked in an "at will" position, meaning he could be dismissed at any time for any reason. Many similar employees treat their leave balances as something like a severance package, he said.
        It can be a benefit that influences whether they take the job in the first place, Dantis said.
        "I think most people who are 'at will' treat this like severance, which hopefully will give them some time to be able to make their obligations every single month and, at the same time, provide them a level of comfort that they'll be able to provide for their families."
        Other local governments offer vacation and sick payouts, too. At least four top executives at Albuquerque City Hall have left in recent months with one-time payments topping $110,000 each, all for unused leave they had accumulated over the years.
        And Lawrence Rael, a longtime government executive, retired from the Mid-Region Council of Governments in November with about $138,000 in unused vacation and sick leave, for which he's now being paid over the course of nearly a year.
        The county's sick time policy allows unclassified employees to be paid for the unused hours when they leave county government, unless they are "terminated as a result of unlawful conduct."
        Amid controversy
        Dantis has served as deputy county manager for public safety since 1998. In that capacity, he has had supervisory authority over the county's Metropolitan Detention Center, the controversial Community Custody Program and the Metropolitan Assessment and Treatment Services facility — the county's drug and alcohol detox center known as MATS.
        Dantis is retiring amid controversy at several of the departments he oversees, including an investigation into nepotism and favoritism toward his son who worked at MATS before resigning under threat of termination last month.
        A summary of the investigation report said Dantis "may have placed the needs of his son ahead of those of the county." It also said Dantis was aware of his son's numerous arrests and failed to report them to anyone else in the county.
        County Manager Thaddeus Lucero said that he plans to fire one MATS manager and that two of the facility's supervisors have been placed on probation. Lucero has refused to say whether he planned to discipline Dantis.
        Also, an audit is looking into whether millions of dollars were overpaid to at least two companies that were providing medical, laundry and food services at the MDC, the county's massive lockup on the West Mesa.
        And a key supervisor and the county's court liaison for the Community Custody Program was arrested earlier this month on charges of bribery, identity theft and conspiracy for allegedly taking cash and drugs to place people on community custody who should have remained in jail. Investigators have said more arrests are possible.
        On Tuesday, Lucero announced Tom Swisstack as John Dantis' interim replacement as deputy county manager for public safety. Swisstack was elected to a second, non-consecutive term as mayor of Rio Rancho in 2008 and has served as Bernalillo County's director of the Juvenile Detention Center since 1998.
        Swisstack received a 9 percent pay increase to $104,458 with his new appointment, according to spokeswoman Hamm. It was unclear whether the raise is permanent.
        Longtime juvenile detention employee Art Murphy has been named as Swisstack's interim replacement.

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