December 22, 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.