KING-TV France at work
It's literally a cushy government job--being paid to sit at home on your couch and watch TV. But it goes on regularly, with Olympia's blessings.
KING-TV France at work
In the past four years, while Gov. Chris Gregoire and other state officials claim they've searched everywhere to find more budget cuts, they somehow missed the 350 state employees they've allowed to stay home and do nothing.
They've even provided the employees with worker benefits and sick pay. If they get tired of doing nothing, they can take full paid vacations and do nothing somewhere else.
The state workers are put on "home assignment," KING5 Investigators discovered, when they're accused of wrongdoing on the job. On the advice of state Attorney General Rob McKenna's office, they are kept way from the workplace while a supposedly swift and fair investigation is undertaken. However:
The KING 5 Investigators have found there's nothing swift about some of these investigations. Through public records, KING 5 identified employees who have been on the clock, but off the job for weeks, months, and in some cases years; all at taxpayer expense.
Take the case of Tammy Jo France of Tacoma, a rehab counselor at the Special Commitment Center (SCC) on McNeil Island, the prison for sexually violent predators.
She was put on home assignment by the Department of Social and Health Service (DSHS) in 2007 after a convicted rapist accused her of smuggling pornography and food into the facility and of secretly borrowing money from him.
She was off the job, but paid, for three-and-a-half years, "making coffee in her kitchen, taking care of her cat, tending to her garden, and playing the popular Facebook game Farmville," reports Suzannah Frame.
"That was how I worked," says France, "in my residence playing Farmville. Am I thankful that I got paid? Yes, I am. But it was still wrong, the way I got paid, because I did nothing to earn my paycheck."
She made $36,500 a year. Thus taxpayers gave her roughly $125,000 to be closer to her cat. But she did have to do her eight hours indoors each weekday.
"I was a prisoner in my own home from 8 to 4 Monday through Friday," said France. "You can only clean so much. You can only read so much. You can only watch TV so much. It's like being in a prison."
At least Tracy Guerin, the DSHS Chief of Staff, now admits that France's case and others are "completely unacceptable," blaming them on the policies of a previous DSHS administration. "That never should have happened. [France] should have never been on home assignment for over three years."
Guerin says France's time at home was extensive because the Attorney General's office advised them to hold off on a decision until the criminal investigation - which involved the FBI and the state patrol - ended.
Yet, though investigators determined in 2008 there wasn't ample evidence to file charges, France's home assignment inexplicably continued for two more years. In March this year, DSHS fired France anyway, based on the sex offender's 2007 claims.
France denies the allegations and--having had a long time to sit at home and think about it--figures she'll sue for wrongful termination. "You're either right or you're wrong," she says. "And if I was wrong, it shouldn't take you three and a half years to fire me."