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FHP official retired in quota blunder, but drew pay for five more months

Mike Thomas, the former No. 2 official at the Florida Highway Patrol, announced his retirement effective last Sept. 1 after acknowledging his role in asking troopers to meet a two-tickets-per-hour quota for issuing tickets to drivers.

But in Florida, retiring and leaving the state payroll are two different things.

Thomas, a 31-year veteran of the patrol, was its deputy director and retired at the rank of lieutenant colonel. He earned so much paid leave that he remained on the public payroll through Monday, and that extended his departure date by five months.

“His last day in the office was September 1, but he did use his accrued leave time,” said Beth Frady, a spokeswoman for the state highway safety agency.

Thomas, a Navy veteran who began his long law enforcement career as a road trooper in Broward County in the 1980s, was forced to retire on Aug. 29.

The Times/Herald reported that Thomas wrote an email last May in which he told top aides “to encourage our members to maintain our 2.0 citations per hour ratio as we attempt to provide a safer driving environment for Floridians.”

Thomas called it a “goal,” not a quota, but he acknowledged a “grave error” and retired.

Ticket quotas are illegal. A second FHP official also was forced to retire and the agency changed its personnel policies to require that all new employees be reminded of that. The agency’s top official reaffirmed the quota ban to Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet, which oversees the state highway safety agency.

Thomas’ annual salary was $132,000 a year, so that five months of accrued time at his normal pay rate was worth about $55,000.

A starting state trooper is paid about $34,000 a year in most Florida counties.

The patrol has suffered from rampant turnover for a number of years and has lost more than half its workforce since 2010, the Times/Herald reported last year.

That in turn has led to a steep decline in the number of citations being written to motorists.

Officials say a big reason for turnover is that troopers’ starting salaries are so low. Troopers often leave after a few years for better-paying positions as county sheriff’s deputies.

The Legislature and Scott raised troopers by 5 percent last July, and Scott has proposed a 10 percent raise effective July 2018.