Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Vacation pay raises questions Santa Barbara Elected Officials cash out $100,000 under county program


Vacation pay raises questions

Elected cash out $100,000 under county program

By COLBY FRAZIER — Jan. 12, 2010
Whether they went on vacation or not, five elected officials in Santa Barbara County government accepted more than $100,000 combined in vacation payouts over the last four years, raising questions about how such benefits accumulate and are subsequently deducted from elected leaders who answer to no time clock.
Since 2006, the district attorney, clerk-recorder and assessor, auditor-controller, sheriff and treasurer-tax collector have been allowed to accumulate and be paid for 80 hours of vacation each year.
But unlike all other county employees, chief executive included, who are supposed make note of the vacation they take so it can be docked from the amount they’ve accumulated, elected leaders have no such obligation. They receive payment for 80 hours of unused vacation regardless of how much they actually used.
During each of the last four years, county documents show that Auditor-Controller Bob Geis, Clerk-Recorder and Assessor Joe Holland and Treasure-Tax Collector Bernice James each accepted a cash payment of $6,919 for 80 hours of vacation time — the maximum amount that can be paid out each year to managers.
Sheriff Bill Brown, who was elected in 2006, received $7,254 checks during the last two years, and District Attorney Christie Stanley has accepted three annual payments of $6,895 for her vacation.
County officials said the vacation payouts are made in order to give elected department heads “equivalent” benefits to their appointed counterparts, who have long been paid for unused vacation time.
However, elected officials, who answer to no boss except an electorate that typically has little idea how benefits packages are paid out, or if they even exist at all for salaried politicians, are exempted from keeping track of their vacation time.
The payouts, though linked on paper to vacation, appear to be nothing more than several thousand dollars worth of bonuses at the end of each year.
Regardless of what they’re called, the payments appear to be legal, and were authorized by the Board of Supervisors.
But in the midst of an economic recession that has forced county leaders to carve tens of millions of dollars from its operating budget, the payments stand out.
And because the elected officials receiving the payments all draw annual salaries that hover near $200,000, which they appear to receive regardless of how much time they take off, the 80-hour vacation payouts create a possible situation in which the recipients are being doubly compensated.
Revelation of the payouts sparked one member of the Board of Supervisors to say that at the very least, the practice needs to be called what it is: An extra chunk of cash. And at the most, should be rolled back.
“It’s just not right,” said 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal in a telephone interview. He added later, “You can’t have your cake and eat it to. If it’s salary, then let’s call it salary. It’s either vacation or it’s not.”
For years, appointed department heads, like the director of public health or probation, have been allowed to receive annual cash payments for up to 80 hours of unused vacation time. Lower-level employees can be paid out for 40 unused hours.
Meanwhile, elected department heads, who aside from having campaigns operate very similar to their appointed counterparts, were left out of the payment scheme.
In 2006, as county CEO Mike Brown put the finishing touches on what’s known as the “Leadership Project,” an ambitious undertaking that aimed to streamline and modernize the county’s human resources system by connecting employee performance to pay, it seemed the elected leaders would once again be left out in the cold.
Auditor-Controller Geis, the only elected official except for Sheriff Brown who commented for this story, said because the performances of elected leaders aren’t reviewed by the CEO’s office, he and his colleagues wouldn’t be eligible under the new program to receive raises in the same manner as appointed department heads.
Geis summed up the negotiations between the elected officials and the CEO’s office this way: “We’ll buy into the leadership thing if you make our benefits package equivalent [to appointed department heads].”
Geis, whose job it is to ensure that the county’s finances are in tip-top shape, defended the payouts as an “equivalency” benefit. He said the whole issue boiled down to fairness. “We had an issue with what our peers were making,” he said. “Really, what we were doing is leveling the field between appointed and elected.”
During an interview in his third-floor office in the county administration building, Geis spoke frankly about the payouts. He pointed out that by law, elected officials aren’t granted vacation, and that’s why he and other elected department heads don’t dock themselves vacation time.
“It’s not the concept that we’re somehow not recording sick leave and vacation,” he said. “I think it’s just what it is. It’s total compensation.”
Sheriff Brown said he understood the payouts to be an “equivalency” benefit, which was passed so that elected officials weren’t “penalized” for being elected instead of appointed.
“It’s completely above board and it’s something that was in place when I got here,” he said. “I don’t think it’s anything that’s being abused. It’s just a benefit that was granted to us and I think it’s being utilized.”
On Dec. 5, 2006, the matter went before the Board of Supervisors. It was the 12th item on the administrative agenda, which that day included 58 other items.
Toward the bottom of the report, a paragraph references changes to the benefits policy for elected department heads.
The reader is then referred to a three-page attachment, which makes two parenthetical references to elected officials receiving equivalent benefits to their appointed counterparts.
The item passed unanimously. But it’s unclear how many members of the Board actually knew the implications of what they were doing.
Thinking back, Carbajal said he believed the purpose of the item was to make the benefits packages of elected officials commensurate with those of appointed leaders. It did do this, but it failed to account for the fact that elected leaders would in no way keep track of their vacation and sick leave.
“I am quite concerned if the intent [of] our Board of Supervisors’ decision to provide such a benefit is not being used under the understanding that we had, [or] at least I had,” he said. “If it is being used differently, I am more than interested in reviewing this policy so that it is consistent and so everybody is on the same page of how it’s used.”
The Dec. 5 meeting was one of the last of then 2nd District Supervisor Susan Rose’s tenure.
Reached by telephone last week, Rose said she had little recollection of the details surrounding the matter. However, she did acknowledge having “a lot of frustration” with the leadership project.
“It is of concern to me and maybe needs to be reviewed,” Rose said of the rolling vacation payouts. “I also thought the whole program might need to be reviewed.”
All other current or former Board members present for the vote either couldn’t be reached or did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Along with the 80 hours of annual payouts, elected officials, like appointed ones, can be paid for 500 hours of unused vacation time when they retire.
For example, when County Counsel Shane Stark retired in 2008, he was paid for 450 hours of unused vacation time, which translated into $38,580, county documents show.
Similar amounts were paid to several other appointed department heads over the years.
When the Board of Supervisors tweaked the benefits package in 2006, they made it retroactive to the beginning of the elected leaders’ terms (Board members were exempted from the decision and to this day do not accumulate or get paid for vacation time).
For retiring District Attorney Tom Sneddon, whose last day on the job was weeks away at the time of the decision, this meant big money. County documents show that Sneddon walked out the door with $42,032 for 443.1 hours of unused vacation time that immediately appeared on his pay stub. This was on top of his annual salary of $197,826.
The same was true for outgoing Sheriff Jim Anderson, who took home a slightly larger payout, $42,192.
So far as Sheriff Brown understands it, the vacation time also counts toward his time served, which ultimately benefits his pension. In other words, there’s little incentive not to accept the payout.
The change approved by the Board also allows elected leaders to accumulate sick leave. In the last four years, the documents show that only District Attorney Stanley has used sick leave, 28 hours in 2006. Stanley did not take office until early 2007 and therefore this sick leave was taken while she was still a deputy prosecutor.
Stanley, who didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment for this story, has been locked in a battle with lung cancer for much of her term.
Her critics have accused her of being chronically absent from the office. While there’s no way to verify this, since she doesn’t punch a time clock, it’s clear that in recent months, she hasn’t been working.
Three months ago, Stanley, after suffering a hip injury, ceded her title to one of her top lieutenants, Joshua Lynn, who is hoping to succeed her as district attorney. Lynn insists that his time as “acting district attorney” will be limited, and that Stanley will return. However, to date, Stanley has yet to say when or if she’ll be back.
Meanwhile, Stanley, who makes $179,759 a year (the lowest of the five elected department heads), has not touched her stash of sick leave, which currently totals 723.4 hours, for the last three years.
Stanley is not alone in this respect. None of the elected county officials have taken sick leave since 2006. So why accumulate sick leave if you’re an elected official? According to Geis, elected officials, like other county employees, use unused sick leave to add time to their pensions.
But just as with vacation time, the difference lies in the grey area between the county’s regular employees, who are required to dock their sick time when they take it, and elected leaders who are not.
Elected officials in neighboring counties do not receive payouts for accrued vacation time.
The reasoning, at least in San Luis Obispo County, is simple. If an elected official who gets paid the same salary month after month regardless of how much they work, or how much vacation they take, is allowed to accrue vacation time on top, it begs the question: when are you at work and when are you on vacation?
Geri Sibbach, San Luis Obispo County’s auditor-controller for the last 19 years, said like in Santa Barbara County, appointed department heads there routinely walk out the door with piles of cash when they retire, while he’ll get a handshake.
In order to make up for what elected officials no doubt see as a discrepancy, Sibbach said elected leaders receive a more beneficial pension than their appointed colleagues.
“I think that’s kind of a fair trade-off …” he said of the pension agreement. “I never have been agitated to earn vacation or sick leave because then the vacation question immediately arises: are you on vacation when you go to this conference or working?”
While Geis insists that the vacation he accumulates isn’t really vacation, but merely “vacation equivalency,” it appears to act and pay out just like vacation.
The only real difference between the vacation that the sheriff and district attorney accumulate and that of their secretaries, is that one must deduct it from a time card when they take it, and the other doesn’t.
“It sounds sort of unfair,” Geis conceded. But, he added later, “What’s fair is in the eyes of the beholder.
“Anybody can look at it being unfair … In our case, it’s what we thought was fair compared to our peers.”
While the idea of elected officials keeping track of vacation time was somewhat shrugged off by Geis, Sibbach said if he went before his Board of Supervisors this week and asked to accumulate vacation time, he’d expect to be asked how he planned on keeping track of the time.
“That definitely in this budget environment would be raised,” he said. “Are you going to have a time reporting clock?”
According to Christine L. Cohen, auditor-controller in Ventura County, elected department heads there are also not given payouts for unused vacation time.
Rather, in order to make up for the discrepancy between appointed and elected officials, she said elected leaders receive overtime equivalency hours that are stacked onto their pensions: these hours cannot be turned into cash.
Asked if she believed her Board of Supervisors would require documentation of some sort if vacation time was being cashed out, Cohen said: “Absolutely. These are taxpayer funds.”

Comment on this article

White people did it again! : 1/12/2010
Racists must be furious... our LATINO taxes people!!! racists bash on immigrants every time they got a chance, should we do the same thing? NO!!! We are not like them, it come downs to the indivial...
Outrageous abuse : 1/12/2010
How can Christie Stanley claim she has used NO sick days? It's well known that she has been out of the office for months & months because she is... sick. For her to be paid (by us) for not working yet not call the time she's been out of the office as "sick days" is an abuse of her office. It is stealing from the County, plain & simple. She wod be prosecuted if she were anyone else. What a wonderful example she is setting.
IRS Anybody? : 1/12/2010
I wonder how the IRS would look at this. Is this truly "vacation pay" or is it in reality a bonus? I am sure these bloated, overpaid, over benefited, public parasites accounted for it as vacation pay on their tax returns so as not to have to pay the additional taxes that would be required if it was accounted for as a true bonus. Just more swine eating swill from the public trough. This should be thoroughly and legally investigated by state and federal authorities.
IRS : 1/12/2010
I would love it if there was an actual tax attorney who might shed some light on tax code concerning this issue.
interesting : 1/12/2010
The tax issue is an interesting topic. How did these people claim this money and should it have been claimed as additional income? Good question
mike J
Thank you : 1/12/2010
Thank you Colby Frazier for reporting this to us. I appreciate you informing the citizens of the abuses and unusual compensation schemes of these people who claim that is was fair that they received this benefit. Crazy! I also wonder about the tax issue brought up by the other reader. maybe you (Colby) could investigate this as well.
Angela Proust
Overtime : 1/12/2010
I am pretty sure that the reason this exists is because those positions are overtime exempt. If they punched a time card you would see that most of those positions require far more that 80 hours a week to do the job, but unlike hourly employees they can not just leave at 5. Additionally, they can't just leave for a few weeks or a month to take vacation. I don't think this is any different than how corporate America treats their CEO or department heads. Not that that makes it right, I just don't think it should be that shocking to anyone.
Ken Branin
Fraud : 1/12/2010
I read this article again and I just can't believe it. What Christy Stanley has done by not accounting for her sick leave is absolute FRAUD to the tax payer. This needs to be reported to the CALIFORNIA STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL! How can you have lung cancer, be completely absent from your elected position and NOT claim sick leave? She only claimed it in 2006 before she was elected and when she was a regular employee. Incredible!
Overtime? : 1/12/2010
What happens in the private sector with private money is not the issue. And by the way, sick and vacation pay is accounted for in the private sector among top corporate management. Unless they are poorly run and therefore destined for faiurel
Voted for it before he was against it? : 1/12/2010
So does this mean Carbajal does not read the details before voting for a package that will cost the taxpayers millions or that he doesn't understand what he reads? This is ludicrous and especially a travesty that Christie Stanley has been allowed to accumulate unused sick leave WHILE NEVER WORKING. These are elected officials people. If they can't understand the unique role of being elected as opposed to appointed--then they do not deserve to REMAIN elected. Bob Geis, shame on you.
Lets hope the current Board corrects this sham
Only the tip : 1/12/2010
the entire "leadership" project/scam is a fraud on the taxpayers perpetrated ironically by the so-called "conservatives" on the previous board (plus Carbajal) and Mike Brown. Brown introduced it within days of Firestone taking office in 2005 so he could build his empire with obscenely high-paid "assistants" (read: Sue Paul, Jason Stilwell, Terri Maus) and pad his and their pensions and thus purchase his twisted form of loyalty. Hopefully this current board will see it for what it is and get rid of it. i've watched this county erode under the watchful leadership of mike brown and can't wait for it to change.
watching it from the inside
ILabor law : 1/12/2010
I suggest you check out labor law before you publish something like this. Vacation time is a vested earned time in California.
Local CPA
Double Standards : 1/12/2010
Excellent article. i hope the County is taken to task on this. I find the fact that Christine Stanley is accumulating sick leave while out sick absolutely criminal. She is probably also receiving California Disability payments which are only to be paid once sick leave has been exhausted. The padding of pensions with sick and vacation leave must be addressed at all levels!
vacation/"sick pay" for SB officials : 1/12/2010
There's a saying, "Of those to whom much is given, much is expected." We're talking about two different species here: elected officials and civil service executives. Electeds shouldn't get vacation or sick leave benefits, because they control their own time (in concert with the needs of their offices); therefore, it does seem a crime for a D.D. who has been absent due to illness to be additionally compensated beyond the salary she has drawn while not working. As to the civil service department heads, they should be subject to one simple rule:" use it or lose it" - e.g., an employee can only accumulate a maximum number of vacation hours (say, 80, or two weeks worth of vacation) and must use it within a certain period of time (say, one year), or the time just disappears. The rationale of vacation time is to allow employees to get away from their jobs, and come back refreshed and rededicated, and if they have to be made to get away from the job, so be it. There should be no more huge cash pay-outs for highly paid executives - EVER! They will have the life-long benefit of a comfortable pension to look forward to and unlimited time to travel.
fed up with self-serving servants
lung cancer but no sick leave! : 1/12/2010
Absolutely insane! Stanley should be sued and forced to disgorge her salary. What an incredible example this county, supporting this DA, sets. No wonder politics, politicians AND government is in such disrepute. As for the others, vacation pay should be for vacations: use it or lose it and no cash out. C'mon, Sup. Janet Wolf, chair, and most likely running again, put this on the agenda!
Santa Barbara resident
Local CPA : 1/12/2010
To "Local CPA" : No Kidding! Nobody is disputing vacation time as "vested earned time". That is not the issue. Before you reproach people, perhaps you should read the article and understand what the issue is completely, or relinquish your license due to incompetency and inability to comprehend a news article. I am not going to spell out the issue for you but instead provoke you to read and understand what is happening. Figure it out before you make yourself foolish.
mike J
Hypocrisy : 1/12/2010
Before Carbajal carps about this issue he should look into his own conduct. How many hours a week does he actually put in on county business versus his own political program? Does he get paid for a full week? Or is his salary not dependent on how many hours he works each pay period? The latter is the truth and the same is for all 'executives'. The compensation for vacation is just a part of their payment. And of courseit is counted as part of their taxable income.
Tip of the Iceberg : 1/12/2010
Money spent on County on executive compensation, whether elected or appointed, is the tip of the iceberg. For all the lip service we hear about running the County effectively and efficiently enormous sums of money are spent fighting turf wars, protecting fiefdoms, and putting up moats round the various castles. Unfortunately, it could take a Grand Jury decades to analyze and correct these enormously outdated practices. Also, where have Bob Geis and his cast of CPAs been, wearing his Auditor's hat, in his oversight role over Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Health chronic budget overruns? I thought this was one of his roles as an elected official!!
Vacation and Sick Leave Pay : 1/12/2010
A wonderful piece of reporting. The results might stir some action, but I doubt it.
Oh Boy : 1/12/2010
Lets get a study, focus group to look into this. Then a grand jury and a public comment period and a typed report, and by then we'll forget it ever happened.
Nice work if you can get it.
Hire me
Use it or Lose it --- : 1/12/2010
Corporate America for the most part adopted a 'use it or lose it' policy on vacation and sick. a decade plus ago You can carry over a fixed amount of vacation/sick (typical 28 days) into the next year anything over that is lost. No payments for unused vacation or sick.
Salaried employees are expected to work more than 40 hours a week and there is no overtime or comp time.
The city/county needs reform.
Corporate HR
Vacation and Sick Leave "Equivalents" : 1/13/2010
While this appreared to be a good idea four years ago, due to the economic downturn I would support suspension and the unwinding of these benefits for the elected department heads.
Bob Geis, County Auditor-Controller
Good Idea to who, Bob Geis? : 1/13/2010
This was NEVER a good idea and you have milked it for all it was worth. What changed your mind? Oh right, a newspaper article.
How about paying back the money you stole from the taxpayer-- cause remember, the resolution, in providing you vacation time, provided you a way to USE that time when you went on vacation. Since we know you did go on vacation and did not use time--- ergo, money stole from the taxpayer.
too little too late
Change in the right direction : 1/13/2010
Seems we should stop yelling about what is -- and look for and implement change in the right direction.
Stopping the current practice of giving pay for vacation (used or not) is the right direction.
Let's implement it, take a breath, and look for the next opportunity to improve.
We can't blame the current gov't workers for years of issues, but we can ask for change.
Corporate HR
Vacation Pay : 1/13/2010
Correction Requested:
"Rather, in order to make up for the discrepancy between appointed and elected officials, she said elected leaders receive overtime equivalency hours that are stacked onto their pensions: these hours cannot be turned into cash." is misquoted. The word "overtime" should be replaced with "200 hour annual leave buydown".
Respectfully submitted,
Christine L. Cohen
Christine L. Cohen, Ventura County Auditor-Controller
Stealing from the public : 1/13/2010
I can't believe the auditor and the DA of all people, would pull this scam, stealing from us taxpayers. What great role models. Give the money back, you thieves! Is the auditor incompetent that he would think this was OK! Aren't there ethical standards for these offices? How about be an attorney or a CPA? For shame!
Complicity of "Controller" geise : 1/13/2010
Don't blame the Controller Geise, he is in on the scam. Why would anyone expect him to "blow the whistle"? Amazing how he is now in support of "unwinding" this scam. This is outright embezzlement from the taxpayers. There really needs to be an outside investigation into this by the California Attorney General.
Armando Hernandez
Resign Stanley!! : 1/13/2010
Christy Stanley needs to resign now! How can you be "sick" with cancer for three years, never appear in the office you were elected to and NOT claim sick leave?
Yes we all feel sorry for Christy and her illness, but we expect at least the District Attorney will have some integrity?? Makes me wonder about her judgment and also about her hand picked "replacement". Right now I am sorry I voted for her.
As taxpayers we, are getting hosed by these people.. Where are the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association on this one?? The silence is deafening.
I will be damned if we are going to pay her 723 days of UNUSED sick leave when she has been missing for three years. She is hanging onto this job and milking the taxpayers for every drop while she is in office. Unbelievable!
concerned SB citizen
Responsible? : 1/13/2010
They should all resign or give the money back. The supervisors should fix this right away.
Quit while you're ahead : 1/13/2010
Hi Bob, suggested note to self, "Every time I speak on this subject, I look worse and worse."
But, if you decide to ignore you own advice, maybe you'll explain this: "It's illegal for elected officials to be granted vacation", so instead of not accepting the accrued vacation time altogether, you chose to take it as a lump sum payout over and above your pay for work not performed. Huh?
Also, explain why you think its ethical to ask all of the county grunts to take a 2 week work furlough over the holiday, but then take your vacation payout to cover yourself during that period. By the way, did you and your cohorts actually take the work furlough deduction yourself, or just skip that unpleasantness altogether?
Transparency Hurts
Wheres the GRAND JURY? : 1/14/2010
wow i've seen and heard a lot in my many years in and around santa barbara local government but this debacle, compounded by the outrageous, arrogant and highly unethical statements by County Auditor Geis---leaves me stunned. and he's "minding the store" so to speak?
I know I personally will be forwarding this article to the appropriate agencies in Sacramento charged with the conduct of elected officials, I urge others to do the same. and hopefully our local Grand Jury will begin a thorough investigation.
Colby, thank you for the great public service you provided
outraged beyond belief
Missing the big cost 1/14/2010
The vacation/sick pay for the 5 elected positions in minor compared to the rest of the county.
The rest of the county employees can get cash for unused vacation and sick. The practice of turning in unused vacation/sick for cash has gone way a decade plus ago in most companies -- You can carry over a set number of days (typically 28) from year to year but anything over than amount is lost.
The cash for unused vacation/sick promotes bad behavior such as under or not reporting vacation/sick days or not taking vacation/sick when needed.

The whole area of vacation/sick needs reform at the county
Corporate HR
Beautiful! : 1/15/2010
In the private sector 1/15/2010
Vacation days are "use it or lose it" basis. Government employees are crooks!
Hey Carlos BIrd Brain : 1/15/2010
You left out a word - we bash on ILLEGAL immigrants! Nice try though. What is it about ILLEGAL that you want to ignore? Don't you dare call me a racist for demanding respect of the laws of our country!!! Last I checked, MEH-he-co had immigration laws too and they treat illegal LATINO border crossers a hell of a lot worse then WE DO! Are they racist too???
Here we serve them breakfast!

S.B.C.C.C. The place where COMMON SENSE never goes out of style!

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