Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté is eligible to pick up a $499,117 check when he walks out the door in May.
Sure beats a gold watch.
The sum is stunning and outrageous. The Board of Police Commissioners and the City Council must ensure this doesn’t happen again — with any public servant.
As The Star has reported, Forté, who earns $189,708 a year, has accumulated an enormous amount of unpaid compensatory time, vacation and sick leave over a career spanning more than 30 years. He’s eligible under department policy to collect cash for those benefits at retirement.
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Some of the specifics of the payout deserve closer examination. Records show Forté has accumulated 5,442 hours of sick leave, for example — an average of 22 days of sick leave each year, based on an eight-hour day.
The department says the chief is actually eligible for 30 sick days per year, an astonishing number.
For starters, the Board of Police Commissioners should ask for an independent audit of the chief’s uncompensated benefits claims to make sure the payout is accurate.
It’s possible Chief Forté is eligible to collect every dime he claims. If so, he should get it. But the fact that any public employee could earn a nearly $500,000 payout at retirement suggests those benefits are not only generous, but potentially out of line with what’s now offered in the private sector.
That’s why the community should use this opportunity to take a closer look at the wage and hour practices of the department. A police department asking taxpayers for $250 million this year must ensure every dollar is spent efficiently.
There should be a cap for all police employees claiming unused sick leave, which is supposed to be used when you’re sick, not as a bank to get rich at retirement. And the police department should be able to tell any employee to take earned comp time off, not pile it up for another big check.
A half million dollars is a lot of money. It would pay to train and equip six police officers for a year. It would pay to demolish 75 dangerous homes. It would pay the operating costs of the Lakeside Nature Center.
It would also pay for some of the additional raises totaling $1.7 million that officers are now seeking, above and beyond the generous pay increases awarded in the budget passed this week.
In a normal world, the City Council would ask these questions. But the chief’s pay is determined by an unelected, state-appointed board. That’s exactly why Kansas Citians should demand local control of their police department.
We have applauded Forté’s service and wish him well in his future work. But his oversized departure payment is a stain — not on the chief’s record, but on the city and the state he serves.