Wouldn't it be grand if you could be terminated from a job and then continue to receive paychecks for nearly a year?
It's a good gig if you can get it, but most of us can't fathom such an arrangement.
Somehow, the former director of the Missouri Department of Conservation managed to pull this off when he left his job in July 2016.
Robert Ziehmer collected $120,700 in additional benefits, a state audit released this week found. About $76,000 of that total was for 1,129 hours of unused compensatory time accrued over a couple decades.
State Auditor Nicole Galloway found the separation and release agreement allowing the payments to have "significant weaknesses." That’s an understatement.
Separation agreements often come with hefty paychecks. That much is fairly routine in the private sector. But high-ranking state employees should not be storing up unused comp time for years with plans to cash in as they exit.
Yet that is what Ziehmer did, drawing from his 20 years with the department. He became the director in 2009.
The post-employment payments were made at Ziehmer's director salary rate — $140,000 annually — despite the fact that only about 36 percent of the comp time was earned while he actually was the director.
Ziehmer remained on the payroll until he'd used up his comp time and annual leave balances. Those took about 10 months to exhaust. To add insult to taxpayers' injury here, Ziehmer was also being paid at his new full-time job in the private sector as he continued to receive the semi-monthly state checks.
Ticked off yet? It gets worse.
Because Ziehmer was receiving these payments as if he were an active employee on the payroll — despite not actually doing any work for the conservation department — he also continued to accrue leave and receive holiday pay.
Galloway correctly noted that providing a lump sum at dismissal would have lowered the cost to the state.
There is nothing about the job of being the head of the state’s conservation department to justify that person playing by different compensation rules than other state department heads. Yet that is what happened.
The four-member Conservation Commission that oversaw the separation agreement did not provide Galloway with documentation to explain the payments. Rather, commissioners claimed the details were shielded as a "confidential personnel matter."
Not when taxpayers are footing the bill.
Sara Parker Pauley is the new director of the Department of Conservation. Neither Pauley nor a spokesperson was available for comment Friday. But in a reply to the report, the commission noted that it had reviewed the old policies and practices and would begin expunging comp time annually and would no longer allow such payouts at termination or retirement.
That change couldn't come soon enough for Missouri taxpayers.