State still shelling out millions to workers on paid administrative leave

On March 8, Joel Campuzano volunteered as a ringside judge at the annual Golden Gloves amateur boxing event in Cicero. Steady and silent, his head moved back and forth as he observed the fighters. When the final bell rang, he marked up a score card, then handed it to the referee.

Exactly two years earlier, the state had put Campuzano on paid leave as Illinois' deputy director of boxing after a complaint accused him of using his position to benefit himself and his wife's political campaign.

Today Campuzano, 49, has been off the job for more than 750 consecutive calendar days, longer than any of the current state employees on paid administrative leave. He is allowed to volunteer at amateur events outside the state's authority.

The Tribune reported in October that the state regularly pays employees not to work, even as it faces wide budget gaps and service cutbacks. The paper's analysis found that, since 2007, more than 2,000 employees received their usual pay to stay home, amassing $23 million in state wages.

More than five months after that report, the numbers remain troubling. For example, a Tribune analysis of state records from late February showed that 10 employees, including Campuzano, had been on leave for more than a year. Last fall, there were two.

Paid leave, which is meant to be used for serious allegations of workplace wrongdoing, should last weeks not months. But supervisors often seek and obtain numerous extensions after the state's 60-day limit has passed.

Last fall, 48 employees had been on paid leave for more than 60 days. The recent analysis found 64 as of late February.

The total number of workers on paid leave as of February is 81, slightly less than it was five months ago. Those workers have collected about $2 million in wages, the Tribune analysis found.

State officials say they carefully monitor paid leave and try to prevent abuse.

After the initial Tribune report, the general counsel for Gov. Pat Quinn instructed agency heads to review state paid leave policies, regularly check with authorities investigating employees, remember employees on leave may not take second jobs without state approval, and develop policies to reassign employees rather than put them on leave, according to a copy of the email supplied by Quinn's office.

On March 6 that attorney, John Schomberg, issued a memo reiterating Quinn's directive.

"State use of administrative leave is an issue we carefully monitor, and we have zero tolerance for any kind of abuse," said Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson. "Paid administrative leave is something that should be expeditious."

Leave periods are authorized by agency directors and must be approved by the director of the Department of Central Management Services, which serves as a clearinghouse for personnel matters. The reason must be "of an extraordinary nature," although a former director said last year the bar is relatively low.

The state declined to provide specific reasons why individual employees were placed on leave or details on their cases. But the Tribune previously reported that records and interviews show communication problems, staff shortages and lengthy investigations can slow the process.

Some workers are paid to stay home for months at a time. The Tribune's most recent analysis found that 807 workers, or nearly 40 percent of the 2,150 employees placed on paid administrative leave since 2007, have had a period of paid leave exceeding 60 days.

Under union rules, most of the state's 60,000 employees can be dismissed only for cause, meaning they must first be investigated and their future decided at a disciplinary hearing. Unions may not assist employees while on paid leave.

Most investigations are conducted by the Office of Executive Inspector General, which looks into possible administrative violations. Potential crimes are passed on to the Illinois State Police or the Illinois attorney general's office. Both agencies previously have said their investigations are conducted in a thorough and timely manner.

A report that finds violations must be sent to the "ultimate jurisdictional authority" — typically the governor's office — and, if appropriate, to the employing agency, which would notify the employee to begin hearings. An agency director has final say over whether an employee returns.

Campuzano, who was paid $84,568 in 2012, has declined to speak to the Tribune about the allegations against him since his leave began. When approached at the Golden Gloves, he dismissed a Tribune reporter with an expletive.

Boxing referee John O'Brien has alleged in a complaint that Campuzano "and others acting on his direction" coordinated campaign activities for his wife, Yolanda, "during professional boxing events and while otherwise working in their official capacity as employees of the state of Illinois." Yolanda Campuzano was elected to the DuPage County Board in 2002 but lost a bid for re-election in 2008.