Editorial: No pay for suspended employees charged with crimes

In Stearns County, a deputy sheriff — Sgt. Phil Meemken — was sentenced to two years in prison earlier this month after he pleaded guilty to violating the terms of his probation on a sex offense conviction. He had pleaded guilty in 2012 to the original charges.

But from the time he originally faced the charges to the time he had his day in court, Meemken was on the county dime; he was paid about $250,000 in salary and benefits.

Now, a county commissioner wants the money back when someone is charged with a crime, and placed on paid leave.

In an editorial today, however, the St. Cloud Times goes a step beyond commissioner DeWayne Mareck’s idea. It’s proposing that public employees not be paid at all once they face charges.

In cases of criminal charges against public employees, the best approach is to suspend pay of the employee after a set period of time passes between when the charges are filed and resolved. Perhaps it’s 30, 60 or 90 days, or it’s contingent on the severity of the charges, the employee’s court date or a mixture of similar factors.

To be clear, though, a suspended public employee who faces criminal charges — which implies there is ample evidence to suspect serious wrongdoing — should not collect a paycheck for doing nothing until the criminal case is resolved.

Obviously, if the employee is acquitted, the employing government would immediately reimburse the person for lost wages as long as the person is returned to the same job.

As Mareck stated at the county board’s Sept. 8 meeting, most employers in the private sector are not required to pay such employees, so why should taxpayers?

In fact, taxpayers are better served with this approach because if the employee is found guilty and — like in Meemken’s case — incarcerated, there is no realistic and timely way to recoup the money directly from employee.

At a meeting this week, the county commissioners considered a draft resolution recommending the Legislature pass the that gives government boards and agencies the right to fire employees after being charged with a crime and are unable to work.

The Stearns County administrator says he’s not sure it would be legal to do so.