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Another public official makes out like a bandit



Published: Thu, May 23, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Pardon our sounding like a broken record, but since when is showing up for work when you aren't sick such a major accomplishment that you deserve to be greatly rewarded? Rarely, if you're in the private sector -- the real world; often, if you're in government.

We've posed the question just about every time some high-ranking public employee retires. And we're still awaiting a persuasive answer.

The latest recipient of the outrageous policy of paying public employees for not taking sick leave is Richard Lewis, who retired recently as the city of Youngstown's police chief. Lewis, who had been with the department for 39 years, was in such good health that he accumulated nearly 500 sick days. He was allowed to cash in 35 percent of that total, or 175 days. In real money terms -- taxpayer money -- Lewis pocketed $45,000.

But that isn't all. The former police chief also received $29,800 for accumulated time, $19,900 for unused vacation time and $980 for longevity and hazard pay. His separation pay grand total: $96,500. Incidentally, because of the number of years he had been on the public payroll, his public pension will undoubtedly be on the high end.

For all you unsophisticated readers who are offended by this government-sanctioned banditry, here's a quick lesson in public sector financing from Detective William Blanchard, the police department's fiscal officer: The former chief saved the city of Youngstown a ton of money by claiming $45,000. How? In Blanchard's view, had Lewis used all 500 sick days, the dollar value of that time would have far exceeded the total he ultimately received.

Illegal, improper, immoral

There's just one problem with the detective's theory: Sick leave isn't the same as vacation time. As the word "sick" suggests, an individual must be unable to go to work in order to utilize the sick leave benefit. It is illegal, improper and immoral to claim that you're sick when you're not just so you can have some time off.

On the other hand, if an employee is legitimately sick, he or she should stay home.

Is Blanchard contending that Lewis was legitimately sick for 500 days, but dragged himself to work? We hope not. After all, as the city's top cop, we would expect him to be in the best physical shape possible. Fighting crime is serious business.

Lewis isn't the first high-ranking public official to stuff his pockets as he's walking out the door, and he won't be the last.

For years we have urged the Ohio General Assembly to enact legislation that would prohibit the accumulation of vacation time -- use it or lose it -- and of sick days. But we also realize that it will be an eternity before legislators, who feed at the public trough, put the interest of the taxpayers before their personal interests.




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