Baltimore County Council joins executive in revoking employee severance policy

The Baltimore County Council revoked its severance policy for its employees Thursday, one day after County Executive Kevin Kamenetz canceled a similar policy for his top appointees.

The policies had come under criticism because they granted severance payouts to departing employees even if they left because they retired or voluntarily resigned.

The County Council’s policy granted up to 80 days’ worth of severance pay to the council’s legislative secretary, the county auditor and full-time legislative aides, a total of about 20 people.

The severance payouts were calculated as 10 days of pay for each year worked, to a maximum of 80 days.

“We thought the concerns over this were something we should revisit and revise,” said Council Chairman Tom Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat.

All seven council members signed the revision to their policy on Thursday.

The council’s severance plan was not as extensive as the county executive’s plan, which paid a minimum of 80 days of pay to a maximum of 120 days of pay to departing top employees, such as department heads.

Kamenetz modified the policy last week to remove the county administrative officer from the program, then on Wednesday scrapped it entirely.

The council policy was created in part because the legislative secretary, the auditor and the council members’ aides do not receive set amounts of vacation leave, and those employees therefore don’t get payouts for unused vacation, as many people do in the private sector, Quirk said.

In the coming months, Quirk said, council members will talk about working on a better plan to handle involuntary severance, vacation leave and other benefits for their employees.

“A lot of us thought there was a better way to do it,” he said.

The severance payouts were not well known prior to a Baltimore Sun report in March that former police chief Jim Johnson received a $117,000 package that included severance and unused leave.

The policy for executive employees dates to 1987 but was revised several times over the years to increase the amount of the payouts and to cover employees who left voluntarily as well as those who left involuntarily. The policy was signed by the county administrative officer, who was one of the employees to benefit from it.

The most recent version of the policy for council employees dates to 2010. None of the current council members was in office then, although Kamenetz was a member of the council at the time.

pwood@baltsun.com

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