Head of disabilities agency has been gone long enough
Silence may be golden for Larry Duck, who has pocketed $50,000 in taxpayer money for doing nothing for about five months. But it isn’t golden for residents of Mahoning County who have received no explanation for why the superintendent of the Board of Developmental Disabilities remains off the job.
Indeed, the board’s appointing authorities, the county commissioners and the probate judge, have run out of patience and are demanding a quick resolution to the Duck issue.
Despite the insistence of the board’s lawyer, Christopher Sammarone, that the agency is doing its “due diligence” and is being “very thorough,” the fact remains that a public employee has been away from work since Sept. 19, 2013, but is still raking in his salary.
The seven-member board decided to place Duck on paid administrative leave “pending the results of an Ohio Ethics Commission investigation.”
But a front-page story in Sunday’s Vindicator quotes Paul Nick, the commission’s executive director, as saying, “We do not have any pending matters before us involving Larry Duck.”
Told of Nick’s comments, Sammarone contended that other personnel matters had arisen with the agency and the employees. He did not elaborate.
The Duck matter is expected to be addressed March 10 when members of the board meet. While they undoubtedly will go into executive session (behind closed doors), the time has come for the taxpayers to be given the complete story.
Sammarone told The Vindicator that Duck isn’t the target of a criminal investigation. So, why has it taken more than five months to investigate whatever allegations have been made, and why was it necessary to place him on paid administrative leave?
The secrecy that surrounds the situation is triggering all kinds of speculation — most of it bad.
Duck, who was hired as Developmental Disabilities board superintendent on March 1, 2001, is paid $120,636 a year, and also has use of a county car for business and personal travel. Duck has the six-passenger 2013 Dodge van in his possession while he’s away from work.
Over the years, we have argued that paid administrative leave amounts to a paid vacation. That certainly seems to be the case with Duck.
We would hope that the board pushes to recover all the money Duck has pocketed since September 2013 if the investigation reveals that he violated the terms of his employment, or broke state and/or federal workplace regulations.
The Mahoning County Board of Developmental Disabilities has a $27 million annual budget and a staff of 300. Its money comes from the state and two local real-estate levies. It serves about 1,400 county residents with developmental disabilities.
Although Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti and Probate Judge Mark Belinkly say they believe the programs are running smoothly without Duck being on the job, the fact remains that an agency that plays such a crucial role in the community must have someone in charge.
Board members must know that they risk a voter backlash if Duck continues to get paid for being off the job, and the details surrounding his leave of absence are kept under wraps indefinitely.
Even due diligence must have an end date. Otherwise, it borders on incompetence.