Leaving enriches Howard officials

$400,000 paid to six departing employees who made way for new administration

January 28, 2007|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,sun reporter

Six departing top Howard County officials received more than $400,000 in cash as they left to make way for the new administration of County Executive Ken Ulman.

Nearly half that amount, $188,638.78, went to one person: former Chief Administrative Officer Raquel Sanudo, a 22-year employee who was the county's top appointed official. The pay out, which Sanudo said included unused vacation time, 10 weeks of severance pay and her last week's salary, is more than her $168,854 annual salary.

Publicity about high cash payments is the kind of notoriety that public officials hate, but it's are not uncommon, even in Howard County, where officials defend the practice as giving hard-working employees their due.

Last summer, state legislative auditors criticized Maryland Department of Transportation officials for giving three senior employees a total of $147,300 more in severance pay than state policies allow for, The Sun reported.

In 2001, a study authorized by then-Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley concluded that the city was liable for $43.9 million in unused employee leave time.

A decade ago under Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Baltimore paid $12.3 million for unused leave to 938 workers who took early retirement as part of an effort to cut city payroll costs.

About that time, news reports revealed that a top aide to former Gov. Parris N. Glendening had received repeated pay raises weeks before leaving his Prince George's county job - a move that boosted the value of Major F. Riddick Jr.'s unused sick leave and vacation. He later paid back the excess. Glendening had been Riddick's boss as Prince George's county executive.

In Howard, former County Planning Director Joseph W. Rutter Jr., - a 36-year county employee - got $104,000 when he resigned in 2003 to take the same job in Anne Arundel County.

Sanudo and James N. Robey, the two-term county executive she served last, both defended her payment.

"She worked and didn't use her vacation, and she earned it. I don't have any problem with it. In private industry, there are huge severance packages. We have a small one," said Robey, who is now a state senator. "I couldn't order someone to take off for 10 weeks" to avoid getting a large payment, he added.

"It's what I earned. It's very hard to take leave," she said. You can't take it at the level you earn."

Ulman said he's asked for a review of the county's procedures, but said he hasn't had time since taking office in December to do more than request council approval of a budget transfer from contingency funds.

"This is a system I inherited," the executive said. "My concern is getting saddled with big numbers that weren't budgeted for."

Top appointed officials often accumulate unused leave time, partly because they were not able to take the time off, and also as a financial cushion since they have no job security. One County Council member wondered about the severance portion of the Howard payments. Howard County allows officials to collect up to 10 weeks pay as severance, plus the pay for unused leave.

"The question is, if you're retiring, should you get severance?" wondered Republican Councilman Greg Fox. He and other new council members said they haven't seen the details of the budget transfer request that will be used to pay for the $407,168 in payments, though several said if employees earned the money, they should get it.

Nina Benz, a 17-year county employee who was the county's information technology director until Ulman replaced her, got $63,754, the second-highest amount.

"This was not my doing, but in reality, it's time the county owes me," Benz said about her departure. She never took blocks of vacation, she said, instead taking a day here and a day there.

"It is my due," she said, noting that it is much less than "the corporate golden parachutes people get that equal from one to five years' severance."

Former Housing Director Leonard S. Vaughan received $52,962, and his deputy, Neil Gaffney, $39,621. Both were replaced by Ulman appointees.

Finally, former Communications Director Victoria Goodman got $36,600 and retiring Office of Human Rights Director Rufus Clanzy got $25,593.

"As an appointed official, you work the hours required to get the job done," Goodman said. "That means weekends and after-hours. Sometimes it is difficult to take leave."

larry.carson@baltsun.com

Hefty payouts

Six Howard County officials received substantial cash payouts as they left county government:

Raquel Sanudo, chief administrative officer $188,638.78

Nina Benz, information technology director $63,754

Leonard S. Vaughan, housing director $52,962.47

Neil Gaffney, deputy housing director $39,620.64

Victoria Goodman, communications director $36,600.36

Rufus Clanzy, director of Office of Human Rights $25,592.99

[Source: Howard County government]

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