Severance pay: Our money spent, but why?



Some of Texas’ top officials must be mistaken about public employees.

Our state employees work solely for the people of Texas under our state laws.

They are not personal servants for agency heads to hire, dismiss or pay off at a whim.

The rules for hiring, paying and dismissing state employees, and the budgets for paying them, are set solely by the Texas Legislature. They are not set by elected agency heads randomly doling out public dollars.

Some of these points seem lost on those elected officials who have yet to join Gov. Greg Abbott’s call for Texas to stop giving extended paid leave or severance pay to departed workers.

State law does not allow severance pay at all.

Instead, Attorney General Ken Paxton, Land Commissioner George P. Bush and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller have used a creative version of emergency leave or administrative leave to extend payments for departed workers, keeping them on the payroll for weeks after they leave the public workplace.

The practice came to light in April, when The Dallas Morning News reported that Paxton continued to pay former assistant Chip Roy more than $4,000 per week even after Roy left to go to work for a Ted Cruz PAC.

Paxton’s former communications director, Allison Castle, was given several weeks’ paid leave upon her departure and replaced with a former pastor from Paxton’s church, The News reported.

Paxton’s personnel chief told the Texas Tribune that state law allows agency heads to grant emergency leave for “good cause.” But Castle told the Texas Tribune that she was offered the money as part of a compensation package to leave.

The Houston Chronicle has reported that Bush’s agency paid nearly $1 million to departing employees.

In a significant break with Paxton, his predecessor, Abbott has directed agency heads under his supervision not to use paid leave “for the purposes of severance or settlement” when employees leave. Comptroller Glenn Hegar co-signed Abbott’s letter.

In the Legislature, Speaker Joe Straus has ordered the House ethics committee to review the practice, writing: “The public should have confidence that state agencies are being cautious with taxpayer dollars.” Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), who leads the Senate finance committee, has also promised to tighten rules.

It’s just too easy to hire and dismiss public employees with little explanation if an agency head can simply dole out salary money meant for other purposes.

It is disappointing to see elected officials spending public money this way, but heartening to see the governor and lawmakers pursuing a review.

Committees to review Texas officials use of emergency leave funds