The Municipality of Nicoya has included ₡50 million (about $83,300) in this year’s budget to pay back wages to planning department official Adrian Rojas, who was illegally fired by the previous municipal administration in 2013, confirmed Nicoya’s current mayor, Carlos Armando Martinez.
This amount is equivalent to an initial payment that the municipality would make to the official and is part of an attempt at reconciliation through administrative means, to pay off the debt “once and for all.” In a reconciliation, both parties agree on the terms without having to wait for the decision from the Contentious Administrative Court (TCA- Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo).
The mayor of Nicoya stated that the administration should pay Rojas about ₡94 million (about $156,600), equivalent to the salaries and bonuses that he didn’t receive from the day he was fired until his reintegration into the institution in April 2020. The Municipality would include the remaining amount (₡44 million or about $73,300) in the next extraordinary budget.
We sent Mr. Adrian and his legal representation a letter on April 13 of this year, asking them to tell us whether or not they agreed with the payment, but we didn’t receive a response,” said the current mayor.
The municipality hired the official again in April 2020 in the same category of position from which he was fired, PM1 professional, the position to which former mayor Marco Jimenez relegated him in 2012 before firing him in 2013. Prior to being fired, he received a salary of ¢1 million (about $1,700) a month.
However, Rojas said he doesn’t agree with the payment arrangement. He thinks it’s best to wait until the TCA judge indicates the total amount of wages that the municipality must pay him and clarifies if the amount he should receive is equivalent to the last salary he earned before being fired— the same salary with which he was reinstated— or the salary at which he was hired in 2011.
If the court decides in favor of Rojas and rules that he should be compensated with the salary with which he was hired on, the municipality could owe him up to ₡120 million (about $200,000), almost ₡30 million ($50,000) more than what is budgeted.
In one of his first conversations with The Voice, the official contended that he won’t accept the budgeted amount or sign “any document in this regard” until the court says so. Hours after these statements, he denied having knowledge of the municipality’s reconciliation proposal and indicated that “they haven’t presented him with any document to sign.”
A lawyer specializing in labor disputes, Ricardo Rodriguez, explained that in cases like this, the law allows one of the parties involved in the conflict to try to reconcile payments through administrative channels in order to avoid waiting until the sentence is issued, but it’s also valid for the plaintiff to wait for the Court’s decision.
In addition, Rodriguez added that the municipality is only obliged to pay salaries, year-end bonuses and salary bonuses based on the last salary that the official received before being illegally fired and not based on working conditions during previous years.
In 2013, when former mayor Marco Jimenez was in office, the municipality fired the official due to “internal restructuring” after he had worked at the municipal institution for almost two years. The former official had worked as head of the planning department since 2011.
After Rojas took the case to court, the Administrative Contentious Court concluded that the firing was unjustified since he was never notified about the restructuring despite being in charge of the municipal planning department and there was no evidence that his firing was due to lack of funds or the need to improve public service.
Administration will serve sentence despite the health crisis
The court ordered Rojas to be given his job back as well as back pay for the last seven years due to his firing. After three failed appeals by the municipality, the official was formally reinstated to the institution in April 2020, a month before former mayor Jimenez’s municipal term ended and at the beginning of the health crisis due to COVID-19.
The current mayor said that when his term began at the municipality, he discovered that the position currently filled by the official had been closed years ago. That’s why this local government had to create a new position and adjust it to the institution’s needs. From May 2020 to 2023, municipalities can’t create new positions, according to Law 9848 to support local taxpayers and strengthen the financial management of municipalities in the face of the national emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Because it was a sentence from Chamber I, we decided to make an effort to comply with what they asked us to do and to be able to make Mr. Adrian’s payments,” Martinez emphasized.
The mayor said that with the reconciliation, the municipality is trying to “close the chapter” and stop dragging out the situation like in recent years. He also stated that this situation will serve as a precedent to follow protocols that hold municipal officials administratively responsible for making “bad decisions,” such as firing an employee without legal support.
This situation deals a blow to the municipal budget in this context of a pandemic due to a decision that was not well made at the time…. In the public role, there should be a process of accountability for the person who made the mistake. In addition, there should be better political control so that other situations don’t stretch out like this,” emphasized Martinez.
According to the mayor, the municipality plans to budget for the rest of the payment in the next extraordinary budget and to continue adapting Rojas’ responsibilities in his position to “benefit the municipality.”