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City brass net over $21 million in retirement payouts for workaholic tendencies

It’s a longtime tradition for top leaders in New York’s public sector jobs to stack up vacation days for years and retire with big checks.

October 5, 2022 Reuven Blau, THE CITY
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The City of New York paid $21 million in 2021 to high-ranking city officials who stockpiled sick, vacation, and comp days over decades of service before retirement, data obtained by THE CITY reveals.

Veteran heads at some of the city’s uniformed agencies — including police, fire and correction departments — nabbed the top 10 so-called lump-sum payments, records obtained via a Freedom of Information Law request show.

They each cashed out more than 100 days of unused vacation, comp and sick time combined, the data shows.

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The top payout ever — as salaries increase each year — went to a veteran NYPD official who received a $235,635 retirement check, records reveal.

Fiscal conservatives view the longstanding practice as a tax-payer funded golden parachute that is largely hidden from public view. They also point out that most lower-level, rank-and-file public employees have less lucrative “use it or lose it” policies, often seen in the private sector.

Over the years, mayors and commissioners have never proposed paring back the lump sum payouts for themselves and their top deputies, according to multiple government insiders.

“The watchdogs or potential naysayers might not be interested in stopping something that’s been around a long time that they might take advantage of themselves,” said Joshua Freeman, a labor historian and author of the book, “Working Class New York.”

But organized labor activists contend that top city officials like commissioners and their deputies rarely have the ability to take much time off. They also point out that their counterparts in the private sector are typically paid higher wages and some are offered goodies like stock options.

“The thing that gets lost in this discussion is public service and how much you want someone to sacrifice for performing public service,” said Ed Ott, former executive director of the New York Central Labor Council.

At least one recent expected payout is causing chaos.

District Manager Gerald Esposito’s sudden retirement and expected lump sum payment from Brooklyn’s Community Board 1 has left the cash-strapped group unable to fill his role, THE CITY reported earlier this week.

The six-figure retirement in payments come as Mayor Eric Adams has called on all city commissioners to cut costs by 3 percent citing projected future budget gaps. Commissioners are contemplating everything from reducing library hours to cutting garbage pick ups, according to City Hall sources and reports.

The payouts — made public only via the FOIL request — also come a year after California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation to make similar retirement payouts more transparent and open to the public.

Former NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan retired last year with a $235,635 lump sum payment — the highest ever recorded.
Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Uniform practice

The mayor and city commissioners have ultimate say over the issue because they are the ones who deal directly with the city’s Office and Management and Budget.

The city has made $84 million in lump sum payouts to hundreds of high-ranking retirees over the past five years, according to the data obtained via the city Comptroller’s office. The cost was $13 million in 2017, approximately $17 million in 2018 and 2019, and $21 million in 2021, payroll records show.

Forty six people got $200,000 or more over the last five years, the records reveal. Most of those worked for the NYPD, FDNY, or Department of Correction, according to the payroll records.

Top officials in city government can carry over their unused vacation days — up to 27 per year — and some of their unused sick days that have accrued over their years of public service when they retire. They are paid in lump-sum checks, but the amount cannot top their final annual salary.

People familiar with the retirement payouts point out that there is little oversight over the sick and vacation time taken by top city officials, who sometimes report directly to the mayor or one the deputy mayors.

“These things are also difficult to enforce. Comp time is generally self reported,” said labor historian Freeman.

Ott suggested the Adams administration boost oversight to prevent any possible abuses.

“Maybe we need an entity that supervises deputy commissioners and up,” said Ott, the co-author of “New Labor in New York: Precarious Workers and the Future of the Labor Movement.”

Supporters of the current setup point out that top city officials in some cases are forced to essentially give up thousands of dollars worth of earned comp time because of the lump sum cap.

For instance, Correction Department First Deputy Commissioner Angel Villalona built up 326 comp days — worth a total of $238,552 — over a 25-year career, according to payroll records. He also saved up 18 off days worth $17,983, the data shows.

But he was only allowed to carry over enough days to match his final year’s salary of $232,358, records show.

FDNY trucks respond to the scene of a Bronx building fire, Jan. 10. 2022.
Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Working on the weekends

Some experts contend that encouraging people to store up vacation and comp time — without taking regular, restful breaks — isn’t a good labor practice even if it sometimes saves the city money because the payouts are capped to match the last year of pay.

“It’s not healthy for them or for job performance,” said Freeman. “A system that incentives long hours isn’t good for workers.”

The practice also sometimes financially handcuffs agencies forced to pay the retiring piper.

Top cops are sometimes asked to work weeks in a row without taking time off, especially, for example, while responding to days of rallies following incidents of police brutality, according to NYPD insiders.

In 2021, the latest year available, topping the list was Terence Monahan, the NYPD’s former chief of department, who collected 135 unused vacation days and 271 comp days during his 39-year career. He retired with a $235,635  lump sum payment on top of his pension.

That is the highest retirement payout ever recorded, according to payroll records.

Monahan, who came under fire for overly aggressive tactics during the protests following the May 2020 murder of George Floyd in Minnesota, spent his last year working as a senior advisor to former Mayor Bill de Blasio.

He collected his $188,280 yearly police pension while also earning $242,592 a year from the mayor’s office, according to the NY Post.

During his tenure at the NYPD, he was also cited by the Civilian Complaint Review Board for heavy-handed tactics in a mass arrest during the 2004 GOP convention.

He’s not the only former NYPD chief of department to earn a six-figure retirement payout.

In 2018, Carlos Gomez, former NYPD chief of department, got $225,826 for unused sick, comp and vacation days, according to payroll data. In 2014, Joseph Esposito, who held the same title, earned $201,096, records show.

They each topped the list of top lump sum payments issued by the city the year they retired, the data reveals.

Few familiar with the process believe it will change anytime soon.

“I’d be very surprised if we see some crackdown coming out of the administration,” Freeman said.

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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