CHIPLEY — The Washington County Board of County Commissioners declined paying two employees their accumulated sick leave during Thursday’s meeting.
Commissioner Todd Abbott asked the commissioners to consider paying 100 percent of the accumulated sick leave to two employees who were laid off during the recent reduction in force at the county annex.
Ellen Byrd, who was the county’s administrative assistant, and Malcolm Gainey, who was the county’s computer systems administrator, were both laid off by the county when the county commissioners voted to not fund their positions in September.
“These were two long-term county employees, and they did not have adequate time to use their sick leave before they were let go,” Abbott said. “I would like to see these two employees paid for their sick leave.”
County Attorney Jeff Goodman said that the two employees were not eligible based on the county’s vesting schedule, which requires an employee to work for the county for 30 years before being eligible to receive 100 percent of their accumulated sick leave in the form of pay.
The term “vested” refers to the amount of the time required to qualify for a certain percentage of a benefit.
“Historically, a reduction in force is treated as a good faith separation, almost like a retirement.” Goodman said. “Based on policy, it takes six years to be 25 percent vested, and 15 years to be 50 percent vested. After 20 years, the employee is 75 percent vested.”
“You are the board, and you can do what you want, they’re your policies,” Goodman said. Going by policy, however, neither employee would qualify to be paid for their unused sick leave.
“My point is that two people lost their careers for budget cuts,” Abbott said.”
“We have followed county procedure correctly,” said Board Chairman Alan Bush. “What we are discussing is whether to change the policy or stick with it.”
“If there were any way under the system we could have called it, I would have,” Goodman said. “My job is to call it a ball, strike or an out, and there was only one way I could call this one.”
The board split 3-2 on the issue, with Commissioners Lynn Gothard, Bush and Charles Brock voting against paying the sick leave, while Abbott and Joel Pate voted in favor of the motion.
The board was also denied a request from the Washington County Tourist Development Council to provide a vehicle and credit card for TDC Executive Director Heather Lopez.
County Coordinator David Corbin told the board that he had met with Lopez and TDC member Scott Sweeney and the TDC was requesting a vehicle for Lopez to use to travel to various events on behalf of the county.
In the past, the TDC has used county vehicles and county credit cards for gasoline on trips, but the TDC is funded from a 3 percent bed tax which is collected by the state.
Chamber Executive Director and TDC member Ted Everett explained the funding for the TDC and pointed out that Lopez is a county employee who is paid from the TDC budget, not from the county budget.
Lopez was recently promoted to executive director of the TDC and received a raise, which Bush said was poor timing on the TDC’s part since the county was having to lay off employees while the TDC was giving raises.
“She ran the TDC single-handed for five years,” said Pate, who also serves on the TDC board. “This is just more of your grandstanding and I am not going to listen to it. The TDC has a good board, it’s the best board in the county.” Pate gathered his things and left the board meeting.
Bush said he has been concerned in the past as he was signing off on TDC expenses, but he gave the organization some latitude.
“If she isn’t paid by the county, then don’t ask us for a car or a credit card,” Gothard said.
“My point exactly,” Bush added.
Everett said the state dictates how the TDC is funded, and noted that Lopez is a county employee in terms of benefits, “The state stipulates that we cannot commingle county and TDC funds,” he said.
Goodman recommended the county coordinator discuss the situation with the TDC and negotiate a satisfactory agreement between the county and the council.
“We should try and separate the two entities,” Bush said.