Skip that gold watch -- they saved plenty of time

Balog, Henson cash in with unused leave

January 13, 2000|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

It's not always hard to say goodbye. Just ask former Baltimore public works director George G. Balog or Daniel P. Henson III, the city's former housing commissioner.

Balog's final check from the city, which will be cut tomorrow, will be in the amount of $141,894 for unused vacation, personal and sick leave -- $22,000 more than his annual salary. Henson, who left government on Dec. 7, got an extra bump of $43,228 for his unused vacation, personal and sick days.

The payouts raised the ire of the new mayor and prompted his administration to issue an order to prevent such large payments to retiring city officials in the future. "That's a lot of money," Mayor Martin O'Malley said of the payment to Balog. "That's a lot of snow-removal days. It's not something that's going to go on in the future."

Both men were able to preserve years of vacation and personal time by using compensatory time when they wanted to take a day off.

"I worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Henson said yesterday. "Sometimes I worked 72 hours straight."

Balog said he generally worked 65 to 70 hours a week and often did not receive -- or ask for -- all of the compensatory time he earned.

"I didn't get all of the time I should have gotten," Balog said. "There were periods of time that I worked 18 hours a day.

"I lost 400 hours a year in compensatory time for 10 or 12 years because I didn't take it."

The payout to Balog is part of a package the 30-year city employee has assembled since O'Malley informed him that he would not have a job in the new administration. The city also allowed Balog and two other top officials from former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's administration to drive away with city vehicles they purchased in a closed sale for "Blue Book" value, rather than at auction as has been the city's practice in the past.

Balog on Nov. 19 bought a 1994 four-door Jeep Grand Cherokee SE Wagon for $9,445 and a 1996 Buick Roadmaster for $12,025.

Balog's vacation payout and the vehicle purchases follow an increase in his pension benefits from $63,584 a year to $65,341, which resulted from O'Malley's decision to retain the public works head through Jan. 3. O'Malley had said during his campaign that he wanted Balog and other top city officials to leave by Dec. 7. But he decided to keep Balog on through Jan. 3 to handle any Y2K problems the city might encounter. None surfaced.

Because of Balog's large payout in particular, O'Malley ordered city solicitor Thurman W. Zollicoffer Jr., to issue an order Jan. 4 that prohibits department heads from using compensatory time without the mayor's approval.

"Effective immediately, department heads are required to obtain prior approval before earning compensatory time," the memorandum states. "Your request should be forwarded to Mayor Martin O'Malley a full workday before it is earned.

"Compensatory time is earned when an employee's immediate supervisor has approved work beyond the normal work day and/or approved work performed by the employee on an unscheduled work day. Department heads are expected to perform their assigned work in a professional manner that furthers the effective operation of their respective departments."

Under city policy, employees such as Balog with more than 19 years of service receive 24 vacation days a year. The vacation time can add up to hundreds of days in leave time that accrue while the employee uses compensatory time for days off.

In Balog's case, the city is paying him for 223.75 vacation days, according to the mayor's office. He also has 33.33 days of personal leave and 44.33 days of sick leave. Those days' pay adds up to $141,894, the mayor's office said.

Henson's check included 64.05 vacations days, eight personal days and 20 sick days for a total of $43,228, the mayor's office said.

O'Malley said he believes the requirement that department officials receive prior approval for compensatory time will help prevent such accumulation of large amounts of leave time and the hefty payouts that result. He said top level managers must realize that their jobs are demanding.

"All of us work late," O'Malley said.

City Council President Sheila Dixon said the council has reviewed the leave policy in the past and may need to revisit the issue.

Dixon said the state does not allow employees to carry leave time into another year, a policy the city might need to consider.

"I think the state system -- it's not the greatest, but it doesn't allow for some of this to happen," she said. "If you don't use your comp time within a year, you lose it. If you don't use your vacation time, you lose it."

Even with the concern about the large payout, Dixon said she believes that Balog has "worked extremely hard" for the city. "If he was working in the private sector, he would be making three times what he makes."

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