Monday, February 20, 2017


Millions of dollars in payouts to retiring City of St. Augustine employees over the past ten years, including more than $770,000 since 2013-date -- to employees who are allowed to accumulate vast amounts of sick and annual leave pay.  It's our money.

The failing St. Augustine Record, whose owners are enemies of activism and inquiry, has done it again.

In a page one story on Sunday, February 19, 2017, the Record attempts "spin" on an issue first raised by Michael Gold's Historic City News blog, without revealing that HCN broke the story. This violates journalistic ethics.

The Record eschews giving credit to HCN, this blog, or any activist who ever speaks in government meetings. The Reichwing MORRIS COMMUNICATIONS family is a chauvinistic backer of Sheriff DAVID SHOAR, whose name was legally changed from "HOAR" in 1994.

The Record article was written by by Ms. Sheldon Gardner, University of North Carolina journalism graduate whose professional training is daily compromised by indecent demands and pressures  from hick hacks that she not report the news accurately, or "without fear or favor" as The New York Times does every day (as established by the Record's continuing failure to cover the Michelle O'Connell case).

While Ms. Gardner's article advances the state of knowledge, it proceeds to cabin its approach.  While providing helpful data on these payouts and payees, it fails to ask basic questions:
1. Did City Commissioners ever review or adopt this "policy?"
2. Where is the "policy" written?
3. Did the Record obtain a copy of the "policy?"
4. Does the City Manager have power to adopt "policies?"
5. Why weren't City Commissioners asked questions on the record?
6. Why weren't comparisons made to federal and state governments the Sheriff's Department and more than two other itty-bitty cities?
7. Why wasn't data obtained from human resources and government management professors?
8. Why weren't questions asked about Florida law?
9. Why aren't all City "policies" online?
10. What evidence is there that the City of St. Augustine's leave accrual policy is a "tool in recruiting and keeping people with the city, many of whom do complex and high-risk jobs."
11. What evidence is there the City's "policy" is a result of any research, deliberation or benchmarking, rather than a selfish desire by corpulent City managers to feather their own nests?
12. Why didn't the Record give credit where credit is due -- to HCN for raising the issue?
You tell me.

City Manager JOHN PATRICK REGAN, P.E., the longtime acolyte of controversial longtime City Manager WILLIAM HARRISS (who now works for Sheriff SHOAR), was long described by other city directors as "The Minister of Propaganda" -- an apt nickname that REGAN has always owned and enjoyed  The Record too often supinely accepts his PR "spin" without question, too often running editorials on Sundays that he encourages be written on Tuesdays in tete-a-tetes with the Record's editorial board.

Enough "warm fuzzies" and baloney from our local "Minister of Propaganda."

We need an Inspector General here in St. Johns County, as in other counties, to investigate waste, fraud, abuse, misfeasance, malfeasance, nonfeasance, flummery, dupery and nincompoopery.

Comparison to federal personnel practices would have revealed that regular federal employees may carry over  no more than 30 days of leave from one year to the next.  Employees overseas can carry over 60 hours.  Even the highest level federal employees may carry over no more than 90 hours of annual leave from one year to the next.  OPM document here.

As George Orwell wrote in Animal Farm, "some animals are more equal than others."

Thus, it is fair to say that if the City of St. Augustine actually done research before spending our money -- if it followed public administration principles -- if it had researched and benchmarked its "policies," untouched for years and never considered by City Commission -- Sheriff DAVID SHOAR's crony, retired SAPD Chief Lueders (right, below, with Sheriff DAVID SHOAR, left, and St. Augustine Beach Police Chief ROBERT HARDWICK, center, being touched by SHOAR) would never have gotten a big fat six figure check for more than 235 days of accumulated vacation and sick pay -- $100,402.33 upon his retirement last year.

Posted February 19, 2017 06:26 am - Updated February 19, 2017 06:49 am
Unused vacation, sick time can lead to big payout at retirement for city employees

The city of St. Augustine paid more than $770,000 from October 2013 through December 2016 to 36 employees upon their retirement for unused sick and vacation hours, according to documents obtained by The Record through a public records request.

Of that amount, $210,142.47 was paid to just two employees — former heads of the city’s police and fire departments.

While there are a range of limits on vacation hour accruals for city employees, the city has no year-to-year limit on how much sick time can be accrued beyond annual caps. The majority of those 36 employees had accrued and were paid for hundreds — and in some cases thousands — of hours in both sick and vacation time.

The payouts listed are before tax.

Since 2013, the retirees received, at retirement, payouts ranging from $95.35 for a purchasing technician up to $109,740.14 to former St. Augustine Fire Department Chief Mike Arnold, who retired in 2014, according to city records from Donna Hayes, the city’s human resources manager. Arnold’s payout was based on 2,614.17 hours of combined vacation and sick leave charged at an hourly rate of $41.98, according to the city.

Half of the retirees listed received between $10,000 and $30,000 for unused sick leave and vacation hours.

Arnold’s payout was the largest on the list.

The second-highest payout was to former St. Augustine Police Chief Loran Lueders, who retired in 2016 and received $100,402.33. He spent about 35 years with the department and had accrued 1,885.72 hours of sick leave and vacation time and was paid based on a $53.24 hourly rate, his pay rate at the time of his retirement.

In a comment to The Record on Thursday, Lueders said the policy — with the “carrot” of full payment of unused hours at retirement — is a way to keep city employees from abusing sick time and also an incentive for people to stay with the city. It also helps the city compete against other governments, which tend to offer better salaries.

“The city has (sic) very little [incentives] that are better than anybody else’s,” Lueders said.

The city also provided Lueders, and Assistant City Manager Tim Burchfield, with more vacation hours and an increased cap on vacation time because of their work preparing for the city’s 450th anniversary celebrations, according to a city document.

The highest payout for a position outside of the police or fire departments was to Human Resources Manager Nancy Rawson, who retired in 2014 and received $44,154.51, according to the city. Rawson had 1,227.57 accrued hours and was paid at an hourly rate of $35.97.

Rawson and Arnold didn’t return a call for comment.

Meredith Breidenstein, city budget director, said the city accounts for sick and vacation time for employees that it is liable for, so the retirement payouts don’t affect the balance sheet even though it’s not possible to budget exactly for retirements or resignations in a year as it’s not always clear when someone might leave the city.

The city’s vacation policies have different caps depending on years of service and whether the employee is covered under the collective bargaining agreement. There’s also a limit to how many hours can be accrued over the course of a career.

On the highest end of the scales, a firefighter who has worked close to 20 years or more could be paid for up to 1,022.4 hours of vacation time, according to the collective bargaining agreement for firefighters. City employees covered under the regular city policy who have worked close to 20 years or more could collect up to 560 hours of vacation time (part-time and temporary employees are excluded). A police officer could collect up to 656 hours of vacation time under their collective bargaining agreement.

The city pays those hours, and the sick hours remaining, according to the employee’s base hourly rate at the time of retirement.

Police and fire chiefs are under the regular city policy and not the CBAs, Hayes said.

In small cities such as nearby Neptune Beach and St. Augustine Beach, things are handled differently.

Qualified St. Augustine Beach government employees accrue eight hours per month of sick leave and up to 960 hours maximum, according to the city’s personnel manual. Employees who leave the city in good standing get paid for a portion of sick leave depending on years of service. The maximum amount possible for someone who has served for 20 years is 50 percent of up to 400 hours.

St. Augustine Beach city employees who leave the city in good standing can be paid for up to 240 hours of vacation.

For regular employees at the city of Neptune Beach, sick leave and vacation are combined as personal leave, according to the city’s personnel manual. The maximum someone can accrue is 480 hours. Upon retirement, if the employee has worked at least five years with the city, they are paid hour-for-hour for the unused leave. If they’ve worked less than five years, then they get paid 75 percent of what’s accrued. The terms are different for those covered under labor contracts, such as police.

Six-figure payouts like those for Lueders and Arnold are rare, said City Manager John Regan. Typically, employees will have circumstances that force them to use up much of their leave time over the course of a career.

He said the city’s policies act as a “very good bridge” for people who have an illness or short-term disability.

Hayes said the city doesn’t pay bereavement leave, and if someone has a long-term disability, insurance payments won’t kick in until 90 days after they leave and will only pay for 60 percent of wages, she said.

Further, employees who stand to lose sick time at the end of the year or tenure tend to find a way to use it, so the city’s program encourages people to not use it unless truly necessary, Regan indicated. Also, outside of a pension, the city doesn’t continue to provide benefits like health insurance premiums, so the leftover sick and vacation payouts can help bridge the gap, he said.

The vacation and sick leave policies, along with other benefits like the city pension, are also tools in recruiting and keeping people with the city, many of whom do complex and high-risk jobs, Regan said.

Regan said while he’s always open to new ideas, he doesn’t have any plans to change the policy.

“This is not something that I think is broken or that we have complaints [on],” he said. “We’re good financially, and it achieves the goals they’re designed to achieve.”

First Coaster
Very generous. The problem with paying for sick leave is that it rewards employees to come to work sick, thus infecting other employees.

Mike Woodruff
On the other hand limiting what rolls forward tends to lead to calling in sick when not just to use up the sick days before losing them.

Jack (sponger) Harvell
Is anyone surprised? I can remember when it was a use it or lose it proposition, or a maximum accruement, but what the heck, it's only taxpayer money right?.Keep in mind, the rate they are paid is the maximum at retirement, in contrast to when they first started. Another taxpayer funded sham.

Wayne (mach) Hoyle
Rather have them use their time as they reach the limit then a huge payday at the end if you ask me.

First Coaster
MW, the problem with that union inspired mantra, is that after one sick day off, any more consecutive days should require a physician's note. Sick days should be a privilege, not a right. These are not private sector jobs, as Sponger pens, along with if you don't use it, you lose it. Sick leave is for emergencies, not to become a huge cash cow.

Mike Woodruff
It's not quite that easy in my experience as a plant manager in the private sector in a right to work state, that is, non-union. . Keeping up with collecting notes from a work force of 700+ could become an administrative nightmare and, of course, there are always friendly docs who will write a note. We allowed accumulation up to 6 months with any new days during a year added in for that year. Any unused after 6 months went into a common pool that could be drawn on by someone with who needed it (e.g. cancer, severe accident). Retirement at 20 years gained accumulated sick leave up to 6 months. Vacation did not carry over.
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First Coaster
I can appreciate the admin nightmare is a large workplace in the private sector, but the span-of-control can't be that big for each supervisor, or can it?

Regardless, I am speaking of the public sector. Like in your example, pooling sick-leave is a decent mechanism to have. I like vacation carry-over because sometimes an employee has difficult taking vacation in one year's cycle, so they shouldn't be penalized. However, there need to be limits, otherwise an employee could disrupt the staffing plan.

Bringing a physicians note after so many days sick in a small agency like SAPD is not an administrative burden. However, the requirement should not kick in until the second or third day, at a minimum, because someone has to pay for that doctor's visit.

I feel strongly that selling back sick leave is wrong in the PUBLIC sector. Selling back vacation is a concept that I have no issues with what-so-ever, because the employee could take the vacation as "terminal leave," like is done in the military. For example, if one has 30 days vacation on the books, and is going to retire, take vacation 30 days before the retirement date.

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