Lee Zurik Investigation: Policy manual shows Galvan may have broken law

The St. Tammany Parish president wants specific records.  But the coroner won't turn them over.

"It is not at all what we requested," Pat Brister told FOX 8 when Coroner Peter Galvan gave her office 17 vacation- and sick-leave request forms, nine of which were signed and dated February 28, 2013. That's one day after FOX 8 revealed the Facebook photos of his travels.

Brister wants a copy of the coroner's vacation and sick leave policy.  We've been asking for it too, for a month.

According to the coroner's annual audit, written by a certified public accountant, the Coroner's Office does have a policy that doesn't allow employees to cash out unused vacation or sick leave until they terminate employment.  Still, Coroner Peter Galvan has cashed out $177,000 of unused time -- he's still an employee, obviously.

When we asked for the policy for sick and vacation time, the Coroner's Office wrote that there is no formal, written policy.  But they did give us a handwritten copy of the sick and vacation leave formula.

"You're kidding me," said Rafael Goyeneche of the Metropolitan Crime Commission when we showed him that handwritten policy.  "That is the official document that they base…?  That is embarrassing."

We sent another records request last week and received a personnel policy from 2000.  Galvan's office told us it was an old employee handbook that is being rewritten.  It says an employee may be paid for unused sick of vacation time -- when their employment is terminated.

When we asked if any memo or email exists that would instruct employees this policy manual was no longer valid, we got this response:  "I am unaware of any documents that indicate or instruct employees or any employee that the 2000 employee handbook and/or personnel policy is no longer valid or has changed."

In other words, it appears this policy manual has not been changed, and no official document has said this manual is no longer the policy of the office.  If true, Galvan may have improperly paid himself $177,000.

But there's more...

The policy manual says, when an employee terminates employment, they can cash out a maximum of 100 unused hours of vacation, and one-third of their available unused sick leave.

For Galvan that means, if he terminated his employment today, at most he could cash out about 700 hours.  Instead, Galvan has already cashed out more than 2270 hours.

Looking at this another way: Galvan has paid himself $177,000 in unused vacation and sick time.  But according to the policy manual, he could have only paid himself $68,000 -- and only if he stopped working at the end of 2012.  Even if he did, Galvan would have essentially paid himself $108,000 more than the policy manual allowed -- a possible violation of his office policy and maybe the law.

In addition to not having any document that says the 2000 policy manual was changed, the office also doesn't have any document that would authorize or allow employees to cash out any unused sick or vacation before they terminate employment.

The parish president still hasn't seen that manual, and has repeatedly been told  that no office policy exists on vacation and sick leave.  That's something this manual, written shortly after Galvan took office, contradicts.

President Brister is still waiting on more documents from the coroner.  They include copies of checks issued to employees who cashed out unused sick and vacation leave the past three years, and the basis for making those payments.


Next installment -- Lee Zurik Investigation: Parish leaders cry foul over coroner cash-outs