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Harford set to deny former county executive accrued leave payout

Harford County's administration, acting on the recommendation of the county auditor, has refused to pay $21,000 in unused leave accrued by former county executive David Craig.
Harford County's administration, acting on the recommendation of the county auditor, has refused to pay $21,000 in unused leave accrued by former county executive David Craig. (AEGIS FILE PHOTO, Baltimore Sun)

In the past, the outgoing Harford County executive has been paid thousands of dollars in unused, accrued leave. Former Harford County Executive David Craig, however, may be the first to be denied his request for the payout, which would total more than $21,000.

In a review of the county executive's office by the Office of the County Auditor earlier this year, Auditor Chrystal Brooks suggested discontinuing the practice of accruing leave for the county executive and denying payment to Craig, who left office in December after nine and half years. He became Maryland's secretary of planning in the cabinet of Gov. Larry Hogan.

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The two sides have been going back and forth on the issue for months, according to Craig and others knowledgeable about the situation.

Craig claims the retroactive move is "illegal," but the county administration has decided to not pay him while reviewing the accrued leave policies by June 30, as Brooks recommended.

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"With regard to accrued leave for the former county executive, we are following the recommendation outlined in the report by the independent auditor," Cindy Mumby, county administration spokesperson, said.

The administration chose not to pay the accrued leave balance after reviewing a draft version of the audit report, Brooks noted.

Past administrations had used a regulation for exempt personnel to defend the leave accrual for the county executive, but Brooks wrote in a report to the Harford County Council that it was not consistently followed. The council was briefed by Brooks during its June 9 session.

Brooks and her office are under the control of the county council. They were established midway through Craig's tenure when the council was being led by Billy Boniface, who was the principal advocate of having a full-time auditor on the county payroll.

Boniface, who left the council after eight years in December, is serving as the county's director of administration, the second-in-command under County Executive Barry Glassman, who succeeded Craig.

The regulation in dispute was not applied to council members, who also are treated as exempt, full-time employees. The regulation would also have allowed the payment of severance pay, but Craig did not include that in his estimated payout he requested from the county.

If the county paid the leave accrual for all elected officials upon separation, it would cost Harford more than $50,000 annually, Brooks said.

"We were advised that prior Harford County executives have been paid in this fashion. However, we were not able to confirm the payments since audit reports for those executive's separations were not available," Brooks wrote in her report. "As another point of comparison, we surveyed other chartered counties in Maryland and found that none of them pay this type of leave to elected officials."

Craig accrued annual leave, sick leave and personal leave and did not consistently account for the use of leave, according to the audit report. He received excess leave disbursements of about $17,000 in prior years, on top of the current leave balance. His final salary with the county was $105,136 annually.

The county started distributing annual leave balances in excess of 320 hours to employees in 2011, Brooks wrote.

In a letter sent to Brooks and shown to The Aegis earlier this year, Craig contested the auditor's conclusion. He argued he did not institute the accrued leave policy and had two official documents from the county's Department of Human Resources informing him of his legal rights and the payment.

"It is inappropriate and inaccurate to recommend that the audit should urge a retroactive movement...because it is illegal to change policy and affect someone who had the right when they were an employee," Craig wrote.

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He also explained he was unable to use annual leave because his parents and in-laws died within several years of each other, and he and his wife, Melinda, had become their primary caregivers.

Craig, who could not be reached for further comment this week, also disagreed that the regulation was inconsistently followed, saying county council members are not full-time and said comparing Harford's executives to those in other counties is "unnecessary," as each county has different logistics.

Gifts, transaction documentation

Brooks' report also questioned Craig spending $1,665 on 17 gifts for cabinet members, most of them costing $110 and listed under an "other professional services" account.

The auditor recommended the administration recoup the cost of the gifts, but the current administration decided "that the cost associated with recouping these funds would far exceed the expenditure required and as a result, no action will be taken at this time," Brooks' report states.

A response "on Mr. Craig's behalf" said the gifts were no different than service awards given to employees for 25 or more years with the county.

Brooks disagreed, noting service awards are given to all employees at five-year increments, typically cost less than $60 each and were paid by the "Service Awards" budget.

The audit also suggested better documentation for purchase card transactions made by Craig, noting that 45 such transactions did not have adequate supporting documentation.

They included 18 meals and 20 fuel purchases, totaling more than $2,800.

Craig responded in writing that the transactions were "always county business related" and "the receipts were general in nature with no specifics."

He also said filling a car fuel tank with the county fuel pump was impossible all the time, because of the amount of travel his job required.

Brooks wrote: "When requested, the specific support for each transaction was not provided. Our conclusion is that the documentation hasn't been maintained to support the assertion that all transactions were appropriate."

The current administration agreed with the audit and promised to provide accurate and complete documentation in the future, Brooks said.

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