Mill Creek’s $100,000 buyout is an unexplained travesty

Mill Creek’s $100,000 buyout is an unexplained travesty

What were they thinking?

The they in that sentence are the Mill Creek MetroParks commissioners who agreed to a $100,000 good-bye gift to an executive director who served less than two years on the job.

And apparently we — and that’s not an editorial we, it’s we the press, the public and the taxpayers — aren’t supposed to know what they were thinking. The commissioners just aren’t inclined to discuss their motivation.

The word outrageous comes to mind, and that is a difficult word to use because the park commissioners — Virginia Dailey, Carl Nunziato and Jay Macejko — have distinguished resumes as public servants and publicly spirited volunteers.

Still, outrageous is one of the best words that comes to mind, because absent a very good explanation — and none is apparent, none has been offered — we’re looking at the squandering of some $100,000 in public money.

What happened

The public record provides a clear set of facts.

David A. Imbrogno was hired as executive director of Mill Creek MetroParks effective Jan. 1, 2008 under a one-year contract, which was subsequently extended by a second year to Dec. 31, 2009.

The initial salary was $90,350, plus an attractive benefit package of health insurance, life insurance, retirement plan, sick leave, vacation time and comp time.

The contract provided for one-year renewals each year, “unless more than 90 days before the end of the then current term either party gives the other party notice that the contract is not to be renewed.”

At a board meeting on Aug. 31, the board, or at least two members of the board, Nunziato and Macejko, came prepared to offer Imbrogno a buyout that had been prepared by the board’s lawyers and would have given him $31,117 to go away. That would have been a generous offer, given that all the board had to do was give him notice that his contract wasn’t being renewed at the end of 2009. Or, if they felt compelled to send him on his way that day, he might be entitled to four or five months pay — between $30,000 and $37,000.

Opinions may differ on how good of a park administrator Imbrogno is, but he’s clearly a remarkable negotiator. At the end of the day, Nunziato and Macejko agreed to give him 11 full months of pay and eight weeks of paid vacation, for a total of about $96,000, plus the district will pay for more than a year of health-care coverage. That’s a package that is likely worth between $105,000 and $110,000. Dailey was pleased with Imbrogno’s performance and wanted him to stay. The severance agreement states that Imbrogno was informed of “dissatisfaction with his performance and interaction with his management staff, as well as other problems,” but there’s no record of that in his personnel file, and Imbrogno denied any performance or other deficiencies.

Just being nice

Nunziato said recently that even though the board was not required to pay Imbrogno, it agreed to give him the severance “as an accommodation based on his service and as a sign of appreciation.”

How nice. A man hired at $90,000 a year works 20 months and the board accommodates him with a $100,000 reward for leaving four months before his contract is up.

Board members shouldn’t be surprised that in Mahoning County, where the median household income is about $40,000, paying a park director more than $100,000 to go away isn’t proving very popular.

The fallout from the board’s inexplicable — or, at least, unexplained — action will be interesting to watch. That’s because commissioners, under pressure from Probate Court Judge Mark Belinky, agreed to add two members to the board. The three-member board was a hold-over from the days when Mill Creek Park was a Youngstown entity with a proud history but relatively modest budget. Now that MetroParks is a countywide taxing division with income of $14 million, more voices and more diversity can’t hurt.

Judge Belinky is accepting applications for the two new seats, and most of those applicants will be billing themselves as fiscal conservatives. That’s just one aspect of Imbrogno’s departure that could make finding a new park director that much more difficult.

Did no one think of that, either?

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