It comes up every election cycle and like always the politicos find a way to pretend there is nothing wrong with being paid with tax dollars and campaigning at the same time. It is always the same argument based on the fallacy of an “exempt” employee. As a business owner, I understand that there are employees that work based on a salary instead of on an hourly basis. Normally, “exempt” employees do not punch a time clock, instead working as many hours as necessary to complete the job required of them. In private practice it is an issue between the shareholders or owners of the company and the employee. The key being that it involves private monies. With public funds, it is another matter altogether because of the potential for abuse.
The latest installment surfaced last week when Siria Rocha sent out a press release on April 20, 2016 stating that Chief Deputy Tax Assessor Arturo Pastraña was “actively campaigning on Election Day, March 1, 2016 for his superior, Appointee County Tax Assessor Collector, Ruben P. Gonzalez while on working hours without taking personal leave.” In her press release, Rocha included a copy of the results of an open records request as well as a copy of Pastraña’s timecard for the date in question. Rocha is in a runoff against Ruben Gonzalez for the tax collector seat.
As is always the case when it is pointed out to a politician that tax dollars were misused, incumbent Ruben Gonzalez told the news media that his deputy is an exempt employee.
This is the argument that every politician faced with the same allegation hides behind. It comes down to public perception. Ask yourselves, how many times your boss has asked you to do something that goes beyond your job description? Ask yourselves how many of your work colleagues game the vacation or leave policies where you work for their selfish benefit? I am betting that each of you knows of at least one instance.
When it comes to private companies, it is private money and ultimately it must be dealt with by the owners or shareholders of the company. When it comes to public funds, you, the taxpayer, are the shareholders. Although it has been deemed legal because no one has been successful in stopping it, using the excuse of exempt employees is wrong.
Leaders should lead by example. Leaders should be held to a higher standard. However, when it comes to politicians, abusing and gaming the system is what most are adept at. Classifying employees as exempt has the tendency to leave open the question of whether there is abuse or not.
Just last week there was the controversy of the Jose Landeros’ appointment by Claudia Ordaz. One of the serious questions surrounding Landeros is whether he was being paid by the County to coach Claudia Ordaz on City business. We know that Jose Landeros was paid for the period he was at the City. We know this from a copy of his paystub. We also know that Vince Perez, his supervisor, has not provided any documentation showing that he tasked Jose Landeros to help Claudia Ordaz.
Like in the previous example, the Landeros’ team rhetoric is that Jose Landeros is an exempt employee that works hours outside of normal business hours.
Can we really accept this?
Jose Landeros works for Vince Perez who is engaged to be married to Claudia Ordaz. All three benefit from the relationship, Ordaz and Perez politically and personally, while Landeros receives a taxpayer funded paycheck. Is this really a scenario conducive to trusting that taxpayer funds are being used for the benefit of the taxpayers that fund them?
Likewise, a subordinate to Ruben Gonzalez, who depends on his goodwill for his paycheck is caught politicking for Gonzalez, and we are to believe he is doing it just out of the kindness of his heart? It is much more plausible that Pastraña is campaigning to keep his paycheck coming. Getting paid while doing it is just icing on the cake. But it is your money that is paying him.
In the end, the voters only have themselves to blame for this type of abuse. Taxes are high because the politicians misuse your money. Think about that as you cast your next vote.