Former Santa Ana City Attorney Cashed Out $191,699 in Unused Time Off

Former Santa Ana City Attorney Joe Fletcher cashed out $191,699 in unused vacation and sick leave when he left the city's employ last week, according to figures provided to Voice of OC by the city's finance department.

This taxpayer-funded windfall is in addition to the $142,080 severance package Fletcher negotiated and brings his total payout to $333,779. Fletcher also left with a pension and, if he chooses, unemployment benefits, according to his severance agreement.

The circumstances of Fletcher's departure have remained murky since Voice of OC first reported it last month. And beyond releasing his severance agreement, city officials refused to comment spefically on whether he quit or was fired.

Fletcher was able to receive such a large payout, Councilman Sal Tinajero confirmed, because of a 2002 contract amendment that allowed him to carry over sick leave hours as though he had been working for the city since 1983 -- 13 years prior to his actual hiring in 1996. The amendment also allowed him to accrue unlimited vacation time.

Tinajero said he was "frustrated with the previous City Council" for allowing Fletcher to negotiate such largesse for himself.

"I mean, this is unheard of," Tinajero said, noting that the deal was negotiated before he was elected. "Attorneys know the law, they know how to negotiate and put things on paper, and he [Fletcher] was shrewd."

One expert on local government called Fletcher's payout an "unusual circumstance."

"You generally don't have a situation where you end up with significant banks of hours," said Dave Mora, West Coast director for the International City/County Management Association. "It [Fletcher's payout] would be the exception; it really would be the exception."

The maximum range Mora said he'd seen for a cap on vacation and sick leave accrual is between 400 and 600 hours. If Fletcher's hours were in this range, his payout would likely be significantly less than $100,000 based on his $284,160 annual salary and benefits package.

Jill Arthur, Santa Ana's executive director of external affairs, said the city would not release a breakdown of the number of hours Fletcher accrued in order to cash out the lump sum, saying that information could not be released to the public.

The 2002 amendment to Fletcher's employment terms stated that he would "accrue vacation at a rate as though his date of appointment with the city of Santa Ana was August 1, 1983 and be authorized for unlimited accumulation of unused vacation."

And regarding his sick leave, the amendment stated that upon "leaving employment with the city, said city official shall be able to convert unused sick leave as though his date of appointment was August 1, 1983."

Fletcher has yet to return several calls for comment made by Voice of OC in recent weeks.

Tinajero was the only council member to offer comment on the issue. Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido and Councilwoman Michele Martinez did not return calls Monday seeking comment.

When asked about the number of hours Fletcher possibly accrued, City Manager Dave Ream's response: "You got me."

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified Jill Arthur, who is Santa Ana's director of external affairs. We regret the error.

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