July 25, 2014

Elyria
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Former Lorain County auditor cuts reimbursement check

ELYRIA — Former Lorain County Auditor Mark Stewart has cut a check to reimburse the county for money he was paid when he inappropriately cashed out 1,000 hours worth of unused sick time in April.

The $180.98 check covers the amount that Stewart took home after taxes when he was overpaid for 750 hours of sick time, which was a portion of what was leftover from his time as a county worker prior to becoming auditor in 1995.

Mark R. Stewart / CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

Mark R. Stewart / CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

Stewart cashed out more than county policy allows, prompting the repayment.

The erroneous payout was $18,080, but after taxes totaling $886.36 and taking home $193.64, Stewart parked the remaining $17,000 in a deferred compensation program for government employees, according to records provided by countyAuditor Craig Snodgrass on Friday.

When the payout was reduced to 250 hours — the most the county allows — Stewart received a gross payment of $4,520 and a net take-home pay of $12.66 after taxes with $4,300 going into the deferred compensation program.

The deferred compensation program will reimburse the county for $12,700, something Snodgrass doesn’t anticipate being a problem.

“Deferred compensation has that money, so it’s coming back,” he said.

Stewart retired at the end of 2012 and backed Snodgrass, a fellow Democrat and his longtime chief deputy, to replace him. In April, Snodgrass hired Stewart to work for him reviewing countyBoard of Revisions cases.

Stewart, who did not return a call seeking comment Friday, worked for four hours on a Saturday in April before resigning, saying the work “is not what I anticipated.”

Snodgrass has said he needed help at the Board of Revision because of a large caseload and Stewart was qualified to do the work. He has said he had wanted his predecessor to work for far longer than Stewart actually did.

But Snodgrass initially denied that Stewart had worked for him when questioned about it by The Chronicle-Telegram in August. Before he hired Stewart, Snodgrass asked countyTreasurer Dan Talarek to hire Stewart. Talarek, who said Snodgrass offered to pay Stewart’s wages out of auditor’s funds, rejected the request, something Snodgrass has described as a joke.

After the county commissioners raised questions about the legality of the payment under a policy that bars employees hired after Nov. 15, 2005, from cashing out more than 250 hours of unused sick time, Stewart agreed to repay the money. AssistantCounty Prosecutor Gerald Innes has said that despite his previous service to the county, Stewart was considered a new hire under county policy.

Snodgrass has blamed Stewart’s overpayment on not receiving the most recent updates to the county policy, approved by the commissioners earlier this year. Innes has said the policy was first approved in 2005 and updated in 2007, both of which Snodgrass had. The earlier policies also limited the number of hours Steward was eligible to cash out to 250.

Innes has recommended that the commissioners take steps to improve communicating policy changes to county departments and other elected officials.

Snodgrass said Friday he has launched a review of other sick leave payouts made this year to determine if any other former county employees were overpaid.

Meanwhile, Stewart has come under political fire for his support of a controversial plan to reform county government that Democrats oppose. As chairman of the Elyria Democratic Party and a member of the Lorain County Democratic Party’s Executive Committee, Stewart is expected to now oppose the plan.

CountyDemocratic Party Chairman Anthony Giardini said Friday he has sent a letter to Stewart explaining the party’s expectations, but has not heard back from Stewart.

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

  • levtrotsky

    Can we expect a secret GRAND JURY indictment for theft?

    • Denise Caruloff

      Stewart, who did not return a call seeking comment Friday, worked for four hours on a Saturday in April before resigning, saying the work “is not what I anticipated.”
      “““`priceless I say….oh yeah…when ya get that letter from Tony…a paper airplane will fly just right!

  • rlm_Lorain

    You might want to go back and check your math. Your figures are just a tad off. He cut a reimbursement check for $180.98? One hundred and eighty dollars? The figures given in the entire story follow the same pattern.

    • levtrotsky

      The $12,700 was in his personal account in Columbus……..He put it there!

  • DCAinSLC

    This just gets better. CT needs to request all the emails of the incumbent auditor – including personal account where county business is discussed. A Grand Jury should be called.

  • DCAinSLC

    Another way to approach this matter is to examine if the hiring was done in compliance with all county procedures. If such policies were not followed, then the hiring would be improper and former auditor would not be allowed to collect these funds. It is so odd that the Auditor has tarnished his office with this matter. An auditor’s office should be setting the highest standards and avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

  • DCAinSLC

    The CT should request all e-mails from the Auditor’s office. In this type of matter the e-mails usually reveal much more detail. That would include the Auditor’s personal e-mail account where country business is discussed. There is ample legal precedent for this request. And it’s usually the e-mails after the event has become public that are the most damaging. As is so soften the case, it is the cover-up that brings a conviction. Something is seriously wrong here and every effort should be make to investigate – a Grand Jury or requesting assistance from investigative units with the State of Ohio ought to be considered. Had the goal of the incumbent auditor been to seek the wise counsel of his predecessor, then a simple consulting contract would have done the trick. Hiring the former auditor as an employee only opened the door for potential problems.

  • Arlene Eck Rebsamen

    He repaid every penny….. $17,000 – $12,700 returned, leaves $4300.00 in deferred comp. Take home $193.64-$12.66= $180.98 returned.

    • stillsleepyeyes

      Just because he got caught………………………….

  • GreatRedeemer

    Someone needs to investigate this private fund in the auditors office that these funds were paid out of. How can county sick pay be paid from these funds. The Commsioners should be seeking an independent not after the election… Today