Larry Duck has been on paid administrative leave for more than five months from his job as superintendent of the Mahoning County Board of Developmental Disabilities. But the board and its representatives still haven’t given a complete public explanation as to why.
On Sept. 19, 2013, the seven-member board voted unanimously to place Duck on leave “pending the results of an Ohio Ethics Commission investigation.”
Paul Nick, that commission’s executive director, said, however, “We do not have any pending matters before us involving Larry Duck.” He declined to comment further.
Christopher Sammarone of Youngstown, a DD board lawyer, declined to identify “a possible ethics violation” the board referred to the commission. He also would not say whether that commission responded in any way to the board.
“Following that, there were some other personnel matters that had arisen with our agency and our employees,” Sammarone said, declining to identify those matters.
“There’s no criminal investigation going on concerning Larry Duck,” Sammarone said. “These are personnel matters that involve Larry Duck that are being reviewed by our board.”
“There’s never been anything where one of the clients that we serve was ever at issue,” he added.
Any correspondence between the county DD board and the ethics commission on the investigation is confidential, said Atty. Eugene P. Nevada, of Dublin, Ohio, on behalf of the board.
Nevada declined to comment on how the board could justify paying Duck more than $10,000 a month to be on leave for five months based on Duck’s $120,636 annual salary. That salary is among the highest in county government.
The board’s appointing authorities, the county commissioners and probate judge, would like to see the matter resolved quickly.
“The board is doing [its] due diligence. ... The board is being very thorough,” Sammarone said, explaining the five-month length of Duck’s leave.
“We have been very diligent in looking at all aspects of this, and we don’t want to make a rash decision,” said Jack Gruber, board president since January.
The board announced with one day’s notice a Wednesday special meeting with an executive session on personnel matters. It then announced cancellation of the meeting less than three hours before it was to have begun.
A notice from the board, which did not name Duck, said the meeting was “canceled due to an unforeseen delay in pending personnel negotiations.” It said the board would meet again March 10.
“Due to the nature of personnel negotiations, we are prohibited from discussing the matter currently before the board until formal action is expected,” according to the postponement notice from Paul Iden, the board’s communications and development coordinator.
“There are negotiations going on right now regarding the personnel matters that involved Larry Duck,” Sammarone said, adding that he expects the board will resolve those matters at the March 10 meeting at the Leonard Kirtz School.
Duck, hired as developmental disabilities board superintendent March 1, 2001, has no disciplinary entries in his personnel file.
Duck not only is being paid his salary while on leave, but he also has the use of a county six-passenger 2013 Dodge van, which his employment contract says he may drive for both business and personal trips. His five-year employment contract ends May 31, 2015.
Nevada said Duck’s contract exempts him from a board policy adopted in 1985 that says board vehicles “shall be restricted for business purposes only.”
Duck won’t say
Duck, 64, of Struthers, declined to comment on matters concerning his employment, except to say he still has the van at his residence, that his contract entitles him to use it, and that, while actively working for the board, he used it for trips to professional conferences in Columbus.
Duck referred all other inquiries to his lawyer, Jonathan Greenberg of Cleveland, who declined to comment.
Mahoning County commissioners, the appointing authority for five of the seven DD board-member positions, want the Duck matter resolved soon, said Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti.
Probate Court Judge Mark Belinky is the appointing authority for the two other board positions.
“We did, as the commissioners, tell the board that they must try to get this resolved. It’s been too long,” Righetti said.
The DD board members “have not conveyed a lot of information to us because it’s all been done in executive [closed-door] session,” she said.
Righetti said she believes one of the DD board’s concerns about Duck pertains to Workers’ Compensation matters.
Concerns surfaced in a May 25, 2012, email from Cathy Jones, county risk manager, to John A. McNally, then president of the county commissioners and now mayor of Youngstown.
“Larry is refusing to accommodate [duty] restrictions based on unrelated personnel and management issues. I reiterated to him nicely how that would affect him monetarily with regard to claims costs,” Jones told McNally.
“Kris Hodge [assistant superintendent] seems to think we are rushing people back to work,” Jones added. Hodge declined to comment further on this matter.
An email from Jones to Duck dated June 13, 2012, concerning a board employee, who generated a claim costing $5,029, said the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation “wants to know why she is still off since the restrictions on file allow for clerical/sedentary work with no client contact.”
Jones said Duck had told her he wanted the employee “to have this time off due to personnel-related issues occurring at the workshop” and that Duck had said he’d explain in writing to Jones why he “could not accommodate her restrictions.”
Righetti said DD board members have told her they’d like to resolve issues about Duck in the next two weeks.
Righetti said it’s unacceptable to her that Duck has been on paid leave for so long. But she added: “I don’t know the circumstances and how long it’s taking them to investigate whatever else they’re looking for” beyond the workers’ compensation matter.
With a $27 million annual budget and a staff of about 300, the DD board serves about 1,400 county residents with developmental disabilities free of charge. The board, which is funded by state money and two local real-estate tax levies, owns and operates seven programs serving clients ranging from birth through school and adulthood.
“Either resolve it and get him back working or do whatever you have to do to move forward,” Judge Belinky said. “The agency needs its head to either be operating or to move on, whatever they’re going to do. ... If there’s a reason that they can’t get this resolved quickly, I think that has to be made known to the public.”
Righetti and Judge Belinky said they believe the DD board’s programs are running smoothly.
The matters concerning Duck have not “affected our operation in any manner whatsoever,” Gruber said.