By Sean Rice
A small group of city employees has accumulated hundreds of hours of vacation time in excess of what city policy allows.
Celina Auditor Pat Smith has called on city council to correct the issue to protect itself from state audit findings.
Non-union city employees are allowed to carry over only 40 extra hours of vacation time from year to year. Non-union employees include department heads and certain administrative assistants.
Council members passed the first reading of an ordinance Monday that retroactively allows non-union employees to carry over more than 40 hours every year, just through this year. Smith told council members the ordinance states the mistake has been occurring and will stop at the end of the year.
At issue is the vacation time collected by Safety-Service Director Mike Sovinski, Street Superintendent Denny Zahn and Police Chief Dave Slusser. On Monday, Mayor Sharon LaRue said Zahn collected 735 hours of vacation, Sovinski collected 219 hours and Slusser has 176 hours. "To me, I think we need to discuss this a little more," council member Rick Bachelor said Monday before members voted to move the ordinance to a second reading and discuss it in committee.
On Tuesday, Sovinski told The Daily Standard the rule was made when a personnel policy manual was adopted in 2001. Union members, which account for nearly all other employees, have rules outlined in negotiated contracts that supersede the personnel policy.
Past mayors and safety-service directors allowed Zahn, Slusser and Sovinski to collect more vacation than allowed, Sovinski said. But that will stop beginning next year, councilors decided.
Sovinski said the situation has become an "unwritten policy over time." He said Zahn, for example, has been street department head for dozens of years and is on-call nearly 24 hours a day. He was allowed to accumulate vacation because he saves the city overtime pay by being a salaried employee.
"We've been warned," Smith said of the conflicting policy. "We want to put it on paper so the state doesn't get after us in the future."
Sovinski said each of the three employees is entitled to their accumulated vacation time, according to his knowledge of federal wage laws.
Zahn is scheduled to retire from his position in September, and Sovinski already has announced his retirement, but not a final employment date. Extra vacation days at time of retirement become a severance issue and are negotiated.
Slusser has not announced retirement plans and needs to use the vacation time, Sovinski said.
"As a result of this ordinance, if it gets passed, he (Slusser) will have to use it up or lose it," Sovinski said.