Job leaves too liberal, city is told Auditors advise tighter vacation, benefit policy


A story in The Sun yesterday reported incorrectly that city auditors have recommended barring white- collar city officials from trading compensatory leave time for cash when they resign or retire. In fact, such trades are not allowed now. For top %J officials, the auditors recommended limiting compensatory time to time that can be used in the same pay period. For lower-level officials, they recommended that the time be used within a year or lost.

The Sun regrets the error.

Auditors are recommending tighter vacation and compensatory leave policies for Baltimore city government's white-collar work force -- benefits called more liberal than comparable workers get in other area local governments.

The city's policies enable high-ranking bureaucrats in the cash-pinched city to collect fat paychecks when they leave City Hall, the auditors say.

The issue of altering the policies will now be taken up by a committee formed at the request of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. City Finance Director William L. Brown said the committee of finance, civil service and other administrative personnel will seek ways to minimize the future impact [of such policies] on operating budgets and at the same time not adversely [affect] the employees."

In some cases, city department heads and bureau chiefs have received accumulated-leave payments that represented more than 50 percent of their outgoing salaries, the audit found.

If the city had to pay the accumulated vacation and leave benefits reviewed in the audit, the total would be $14.9 million.

Lillian L. Nolley, president of an association that represents the workers, said unlike other city employees, the group's white-collar members do not receive overtime and many are in demanding positions that make it difficult to take vacations.

If the city chooses to restrict leave payments, she said, "then people should be fairly compensated for the work that they do."

In reviewing the leave policies, city auditors focused on employees with 20 years' service or those who could retire immediately. Such workers are permitted to accumulate a maximum of 192 vacation days, 32 personal days and 55 days of compensatory time. Sick leave, for which an employee is paid one day for every three accumulated, is not capped.

The audit, which was completed in the spring, has suggested that the accumulated vacation and personal leave benefits be eliminated for a select group of "senior officials," sick-leave payments be converted into years of service for retirement purposes, and compensatory leave no longer be available for cash payouts.

The report prepared at the request of Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean reviewed vacation, compensatory and sick-leave policies for the 1,240 bureaucrats represented by the Managerial and Professional Society (MAPS), which negotiates their salary and benefits package.

MAPS employees range from agency directors to the auditors and earn between $29,400 and $111,400 annually.

The audit compared the city's policies with those of 15 other local governments in the Baltimore-Washington corridor, as well as those of state government.

"The city's allowances are generally on par with those of the other jurisdictions studied, but the maximum limits allowed for vacation and compensatory are more liberal," said City Auditor Allen L. Reynolds.

"Likewise our policy for paying of unused sick leave differs from the far more common practice of crediting it to length of service for retirement benefits."

In the past, the issue of accumulated leave benefits made headlines when former Mayor William Donald Schaefer left City Hall in 1986 for the State House. Then, 15 veteran city staffers followed Mr. Schaefer to Annapolis, collecting more than $275,000 in unused vacation time, sick leave and personal leave time.

As part of the recent review, city auditors identified the top 10 payouts for employees who were eligible to retire as of Nov. 30, 1991. They ranged from $64,268 to $137,843. The employees are among a pool of 59 who, if they had retired in November, would have cost the city $2.4 million in leave payments, the audit found.

The report also noted that officials who joined the city after the 1987 election of Mayor Schmoke are accumulating sizable sums already.

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