Riverside vacation-payout spike raises alarm

RIVERSIDE, Calif. There's change in the air at the /*Riverside County District Attorney's Office*/. Rod Pacheco was voted out three months ago. Paul Zellerbach will soon be taking over.

It's hardly been a smooth transition.

And now this: There are claims that more than 170 deputy district attorneys have broken the rules and taken enormous sums of money from vacation buybacks, including nearly a million dollars in one pay period alone.

"This is deeply disturbing to me," said Riverside County District 1 Supervisor Bob Buster.

Buster says it sends the wrong message at a time when everyone is trying to cut back.

"We're all trying to show fiscal discipline here in the county. It's an austere year, and all of a sudden, out of the blue, comes what apparently is a mass feeding frenzy almost," said Buster.

The D.A.'s office says it approved the 160-hour-per-year vacation-buyback policy when they got an e-mail from county human resources saying it was allowed. But the county says the e-mail was wrong, so they printed out another vacation-buyback form, saying employees could only take a 40-hours-per-year buyback. Problem is, the D.A.'s office says they never the second form.

"I presume it's used in other departments, but it's never been a form used, and the form itself has no legal significance on determining this issue," said assistant district attorney Kelly Keenan.

Keenan says the 160-hour maximum buyback is something that was in effect before the bargaining agreement ended last year. And it will probably be in the next bargaining agreement.

"They gave them this benefit," said Keenan. "It's their right to have the benefit."

The question is whether this was a case of miscommunication, or is this all politics? Were these employees gaming the system, or are they simply collecting money that they earned in the first place?

The public will have a chance to weigh in when the Riverside County Board of Supervisors votes on the deputy D.A.'s new bargaining agreement next week.

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