Officials walk away, get payouts (September 1, 2000)

council questions severance packages

By Christofer Machniak, JOURNAL STAFF WRITER

Two City Council members are raising questions over severance packages that exceeded more than $50,000 each for two top officials who left in July.

But city officials say they were only following a precedent the council set in 1997 that allowed a former city clerk to collect more than $78,000.

The questions center on how much unused vacation and sick time officials can receive when they leave the city.

The maximum normally observed for unused vacation time is 320 hours, but both David H. Ready, former city administrator, and Reginald Richardson, former housing commission director, signed agreements allowing them to collect more.

Sixth Ward City Councilman Mark A Horrigan asked the administration on Monday to explain the policy at a future meeting. He said appointed officials are salaried and shouldn’t receive payments for unused sick and vacation time.

Ready, who began work as city manager of Palm Springs, Calif., in June after more than eight years in Flint, was paid for about 434 hours of unused vacation time and 480 hours of unused sick time, totaling more than $40,000. His hourly rate was $38.27.

He also used 320 hours of additional vacation from the time he left the city on June 6 until he officially resigned July 28, which allowed him to accrue additional vacation and sick time and earn more retirement benefits. Richardson, who retired in July in the wake of two sexual harassment lawsuits against him, was paid for 918.5 hours in unused vacation time, totaling more than $31,000. His hourly rate was $34.49. With vacation and retirement benefits, his effective payout topped $50,000.

One lawsuit, involving Swanzetta Wilson, has been settled in which the city paid $4,000. The other, involving Deborah Pellens, is set for trial in September. The city and housing commission no longer are defendants in that case.

City officials say there is a precedent for the payments to Ready and Richardson. Louis Hawkins, former city clerk, was paid for more than 1,600 hours of vacation time when he left in 1997.

Hawkins was paid for 712 hours for time he was allowed to accrue, the maximum for employees who started before 1978. In addition, the council got Hawkins an additional 963 hours because it asked Hawkins to forgo vacation to perform work.

The hours added up to more than $78,000.

I just want them to look at the facts before casting stones and casting doubts, said Tony Morolla, the city’s personnel and labor relations director.

Ready, reached by telephone in California, said he took less than two weeks of vacation yearly because of city problems, ranging from water billing and new computer software to a brain drain caused by early retirements.

There were so many hours I couldn’t take, Ready said. The workload did not, would not permit me to be gone, out of the office a month out of the year.

Ninth Ward Councilman Scott Kincaid said he doesn’t want to deny any benefit due a city employee, but he wonders if the city can accurately monitor if top officials legitimately use vacation and sick time.

Kincaid also raised questions this year after James Makokha, former governmental policy director, was paid in February for 480 hours of sick time totaling more than $18,000.

Makokha hadn’t worked since September 1997 in connection with a bribery-related scandal, and he eventually pleaded guilty, but he remained on the payroll until Dec. 31, 1999.

Questions also were asked shortly after Marc Puckett, former finance director, resigned in February 1999. Puckett, who left after it was revealed his department failed to make pension transfers for almost two years despite warnings from auditors, was paid an additional $6,000 for unused vacation time.

Some city employees criticized the payments, especially in the wake of $11.6 million in budget cuts that included about 100 layoffs.

I don’t think it’s right for people to get laid off, but the administration is granting special agreements for appointed officials, said one employee who asked not to be named for fear of retribution.

Christofer Machniak can be reached at (810) 766-6304 or [email protected].

Copyright Flint Journal / MLive Media Group ( Used with permission.

Files dealing with Marc Puckett