A Boston community center director is heading back to work after spending more than two years on paid administrative leave, the NBC10 Boston Investigators have learned.
Fred Ahern was paid to stay at home for 26 months, collecting more than $215,000 in salary during that time period.
“If this were the private sector, I don’t think this would ever happen. It’s a waste of money,” expressed Greg Sullivan, research director with the Pioneer Institute, a conservative public policy think tank.
City leaders placed Ahern on paid leave in the wake of a tragedy. Seven-year-old Kyzr Willis drowned during a summer youth camp at the Curley Center in July 2016.
Months after the boy’s death, an investigation by the Suffolk County District Attorney concluded with no criminal wrongdoing.
This past April, the City of Boston settled a civil lawsuit with the family.
But even after all that time, Ahern stayed at home as city leaders conducted their own internal investigation to determine if he should keep his job.
The NBC10 Boston Investigators asked Mayor Marty Walsh about the length of time and whether the City of Boston could improve the process.
“It’s due process. Innocent until proven guilty. There’s really not much more you can do,” Walsh responded.
Boston payroll records reviewed by the NBC10 Boston Investigators show that process can often drag out over the course of months.
Over a three-year period:
- Employees on paid leave were off the job for an average of nine months
- Employees on paid leave collected an average of $72,000
- Boston taxpayers shelled out roughly $5 million to employees paid to stay home while facing criminal charges or under internal investigation
“It’s very complicated,” Walsh said. “If you could speed up the court system, so we’re not waiting a year and a half after an incident happens, I think things like that might be helpful.”
Two of Walsh’s aides recently spent nearly two years off the job as they faced federal extortion charges.
A judge dismissed the case earlier this year, allowing Timothy Sullivan and Kenneth Brissette to return to City Hall, but not before the pair had collected more than $400,000 combined on paid leave.
When asked if taxpayers might perceive a waste of money for workers to stay home, as opposed as working in another role for the City of Boston, Walsh defended the system.
“We run a fiscally sound city. A very fiscally conservative city. We’re not paying people for not working,” he said.
Ahern did not respond to phone calls or written communication from NBC10 Boston. He also declined to comment when approached outside his home in South Boston.
“I really don’t have anything to say about the matter at this time,” Ahern said.
Walsh said the city’s internal investigation cleared Ahern of any wrongdoing, allowing him to return to work in the coming weeks. The NBC10 Boston Investigators requested a copy of the report more than a month ago, but have not received it.
A city spokesperson said Ahern will not be returning to the Curley Center, where a manager with the Boston Center for Youth and Families has been overseeing the facility.
Instead, he has been re-assigned to the Madison Park Community Center, where a new position was created.
While on leave, Ahern received annual pay increases negotiated through collective bargaining. This bumped his salary from $97,495 to $103,970 over the 26-month period.
Sullivan, a former state inspector general, said the City of Boston needs to figure out a different approach.
“Only in a government environment would you see this happen in slow motion,” he said. “In this case, we’re wasting taxpayers’ money. But with government officials, it’s like funny money.”