Saving the government money heals the sick

Victor Joecks

The benefits of good government aren’t just financial. If you’re a Clark County firefighter, they also have a remarkable healing power.

For years, many firefighters in Clark County were gaming the sick-leave system to boost their overtime pay. One firefighter would call in “sick,” which would allow another one to cover his shift while receiving overtime or callback pay. The favor would then be returned at a later date. This practice was so widespread, firefighters called in sick almost twice as often as other county employees.

The Clark County Commission, led by Commissioner Steve Sisolak, started cracking down on this rampant abuse of sick leave last year. And after comparing the amount of sick leave taken this year to the same time period last year, lo and behold, the healing has begun.

About six months after an arbitrator pointed out what he thought was obvious misuse of the sick-leave system, and after Clark County adopted stricter rules, firefighters aren’t calling in sick nearly as much as they used to.

New county numbers show significant declines in sick-leave use across the board, but especially in the more isolated fire stations at McCarran International Airport and Laughlin.

The average number of sick-leave hours totaled at the Laughlin station fell 61 percent per pay period compared with 2010. At McCarran, sick-leave use per pay period fell 59 percent.

Across the department, sick-leave use this calendar year has fallen 32 percent on average per pay period. County staff estimates the declines will save taxpayers about $2.5 million if they continue. Meanwhile, it could cut into the average Clark County firefighter compensation package that averaged more than $180,000 each in 2010.

This sharp decline in sick leave offers even more evidence that abuse of the sick-leave system was rampant throughout the Clark County Fire Department. Let’s hope the ongoing Metro and FBI investigations leave no stone unturned to find those firefighters who misused the sick-leave system to boost their pocketbooks. Their punishment should be swift and severe.

The public should remember this as well, especially the next time someone from the firefighters union tries to excuse this kind of abuse by claiming it was just a few bad apples or that it was management’s fault. This was a systemic problem perpetrated by firefighters – but paid for by the public .

We shouldn’t forget commissioners like Tom Collins or Chris Giunchigliani, either. Both tried to turn a blind eye to this problem.

Other commissioners aren’t so sure. Commissioners Tom Collins and Chris Giunchigliani said if a problem [with the sick leave system] exists, it is management’s responsibility to curb it.

“If they really think people are doing this, then they have to address it. And if they don’t address it, then shame on them and shame on us,” Giunchigliani said.

Most of all, the public should thank Sisolak for having the courage not to back down from this issue. Taking on a corrupt but politically powerful group like the firefighters union is risky politically, but certainly the right thing to do. Taxpayers always need someone to stand up for them, and in this case, Sisolak did that.

As a result, he’s not only saved the county money, he’s “healed” countless firefighters.