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08-31-04 Retirees will get vacation payments

By Sean Rice

  Celina Mayor Sharon LaRue says retiring city administrators will be paid for all vacation days earned, despite current city policy.

  Celina City Council last week passed the first reading of a proposed ordinance that retroactively approves of administration employees carrying over vacation time in excess of 40 hours. The legislation legitimizes actions in past administrations and states that no longer can any non-union employee carry over more than 40 hours.
  Street department Superintendent Denny Zahn has collected more than 700 hours of vacation time and has been accumulating those hours for years. For the past few years, Safety Service Director Mike Sovinski has approved a request allowing Zahn to retain his balance of vacation hours.
  Police Chief Dave Slusser also was given approval by Sovinski to carry over 100-plus hours. He plans to use his up this year. Sovinski currently has more than 200 hours of vacation time, which was approved for carryover from 2003 by former Mayor Paul Arnold.
  The position of safety-service director is the top administrator, aside the mayor.  Arnold disagrees with LaRue and says the administrators should not be paid, even though he signed off on it in 2003.
  In a letter to city officials, Arnold references a 2002 memo from Sovinski that states no more than 40 hours can be carried from year to year. Despite that memo, carryover requests from Slusser and Zahn were approved in 2002 and 2003.
  "The policy book and Sovinski's memo says one thing, and they're doing another," Arnold told The Daily Standard.
  Although Arnold approved Sovinski's carryover request, he said the state auditors will not see it as a valid expense, because city council did not approve it.
  "I was wrong ... I'll stand by that, but the policy says you can't do that," Arnold said.
  City Auditor Pat Smith said the employee policy enacted in 2001 that states no more than 40 hours can be transferred was written by Sovinski and not approved by council. Therefore, Sovinski has the authority to make exceptions.
  Sovinski, who is currently on vacation, told The Daily Standard last week the city's personnel consultant said employees have a valid claim to those transferred hours. Once they are moved and documented, it is difficult to claim the employee is not entitled to those hours, he said.
  LaRue this morning agreed with Sovinski's comment.
  "This has always occurred, for years and years," said LaRue, who has not been involved in granting carryover requests.
  LaRue said the proposed ordinance that corrects this issue was presented because Zahn and Sovinski will be retiring soon. Zahn will be taking vacation days until his official end date of Sept. 30. Sovinski will be using accumulated days until his final day on Oct. 29, LaRue said this morning.
  The men will be paid for any vacation days remaining at the time of retirement, she said, "no question about it."
  When Sovinski departs, Jeff Hazel, director of administrative services, will move to safety-service director, as announced earlier this year, LaRue said.
  Celina City Council members have stated the issue will be discussed in committee prior to final approval.


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