Working too hard?

City Hall: Stricter regulations needed to prevent misuse of accrued sick leave and vacation time.

January 18, 2000

Don't feel sorry for George G. Balog -- though the former city public works director seems to feel sorry for himself.

He billed the city $141,894 for unused vacation, personal and sick time. Even so, he says: "I didn't get all of the time I should have gotten."

Daniel P. Henson III, the Schmoke administration's powerful housing commissioner, took an extra $43,228 on his way out. He wants taxpayers to know they got a good deal because "I worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

These two officials' toils are shocking. No one should be expected to work that hard.

Upset about the two former department heads' high delayed compensation claims, Baltimore's new mayor, Martin O'Malley, has issued orders to limit the use of compensatory time.

That's a good start. As a follow-up, a thorough overhaul of written regulations and unwritten practices is needed. The administration and the City Council must make sure this is done without delay.

Most private companies do not permit their employees to cash in unused vacation time and sick leave at the end of their careers. Neither should the municipal government.

Human nature dictates that unless "comp" time and sick leave are tightly regulated, they are abused. Detroit auto workers, for example, for years called in sick to use their accumulated benefits before they expired.

At Baltimore's City Hall, some municipal employees never use any of their vacation time. Instead, they claim "comp" time whenever they take days off. This can produce a windfall: Some past employees have cashed in more than a year's worth of accumulated vacation time and sick leave.

Attempts to reform this practice are certain to encounter opposition from municipal employees who have much to lose. But things have clearly gotten out of hand and need to be rectified.

The beginning of a new administration is the perfect time for an overhaul.

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