December 22, 2014

Elyria
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Commissioners may revise how employees cash out on unused sick time after $18K payout

ELYRIA — The Lorain County commissioners are considering whether to revise how county employees can cash out unused sick time in the wake of a controversial $18,080 payout to former county Auditor Mark Stewart in April.

Commissioner Tom Williams said he wants to bring the county policy closer in line to what he said the Ohio Revised Code calls for.

Mark Stewart retires 1.jpg

Mark Stewart
FILE PHOTO/THE CHRONICLE-TELEGRAM

He said if the policy were to change, county employees would be limited to being paid for 240 hours of unused sick time, but in order to get the full payout, they would need to bank four times as many hours as they would be paid for.

The county allows workers hired before Nov. 15, 2005, to cash out up to 1,000 hours of unused sick time. Those hired after that can cash out up to 250 hours. Both of those are paid at an hour-for-hour basis.

“As budgetary authority for the county, why should we go above what the state allows?” Williams said Wednesday.

Stewart had 1,208.24 hours of unused sick time when he went from being a county worker to the elected auditor in 1995. At that time he was allowed to cash out his unused vacation time, but not his sick leave.

After retiring at the end of 2012, Stewart was hired by his successor, Craig Snodgrass, to review paperwork for the countyBoard of Revision. Stewart worked for four hours on a Saturday in April before resigning and cashing out 1,000 hours.

When the payout became public earlier this month, county officials said that Stewart was considered a new hire under its payout policy and he was only entitled to receive payment for 250 unused sick hours. Snodgrass has said Stewart has since agreed to refund the county 750 hours worth of pay, valued at $13,560.

Snodgrass, who initially denied that Stewart had worked for him, has said that he never received a copy of the most recent revisions to the policy, approved by the commissioners earlier this year. But the commissioners and Assistant County Prosecutor Gerald Innes have said the 2005 policy would have prevented Stewart from receiving more than 250 hours.

The commissioners have also said they will likely improve their process of notifying other county departments and elected officials about changes in policy.

Williams’ fellow commissioners, Ted Kalo and Lori Kokoski, said they still want to examine what the legal impact of any change to the sick leave payout policy would be.

Kalo and Kokoski also said it wouldn’t be fair to change the policy in a way that impacts current workers.

“I don’t feel it’s right to go back on a benefit an employee has been working under,” Kalo said.

Bev Beidelman, chief deputy clerk of courts, told the commissioners Wednesday that paying out cash for unused sick time isn’t necessarily a problem under the current system. She said many county workers aren’t taking home large paychecks and the payout is a nice benefit for them at the end of long careers.

“Think about the employees, because a lot of them don’t make a lot and have invested a lot (in the county),” she said.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.