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February 23, 2018
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Council puts cap on city employee annual vacation days

By Tia Lyons
This article was published January 6, 2018 at 5:00 a.m.

A revision in the El Dorado employee personnel handbook clarified a policy that allowed annual vacation days for long-term civilian employees to accrue.

Mayor Frank Hash recently sent out a memo explaining that non-uniformed city personnel will be allotted 22 paid leave, or vacation days, per year.

Hash discussed the matter with the El Dorado City Council during the council’s Dec. 19 meeting.

The issue had previously been discussed by the Finance Committee as part of an overall review by city officials of the personnel handbook.

Hash broached the issue on Dec. 19, telling aldermen that he wanted to address it prior to the start of the New Year.

The mayor said the handbook provided for 22 paid leave days for civilian employees per calendar year.

However, for the past two decades, employees who had been with the city for at least 20 years were accruing additional paid leave each year.

Long-term employees are allowed 6.7 hours of paid leave per pay period each year.

Hash said the personnel policy manual did not place a cap at 22 hours per year, and the hours kept accruing for employees with 20-plus years in.

“The policy in the handbook leads one to believe that you can keep accruing leave. It says 22 days, but it fails to say the maximum that you can accrue,” Hash said.

On Dec. 19, he told aldermen that employees are allotted 22 days of paid leave, 16 paid holidays and one day of paid birthday leave each year.

“So that’s 22, plus 16, plus one, and then there’s the potential of sick days,” the mayor said. “You could keep protracting it, I guess, into infinity.”

“That’s over 12 weeks a year,” Alderwoman Judy Ward noted.

Hash provided an example, saying that a former City Hall employee with more than 30 years of service had accrued 44 annual leave days at one point.

With an administrative staff of less than 10 people in City Hall, Hash said there were instance in which several people were out on paid leave simultaneously.

“We can’t keep a reliable staff here because they’ve got to use all their leave up or lose it,” Hash told the News-Times. “We’ve got to keep the office open on an improvised staff, and that can get difficult, especially in areas where we’re only one person deep.”

Hash said state legislative auditors have homed in the issue, and he said the policy went into effect in January 1997, without the approval of the city council.

“I guess it was because, before, (civilian employees) didn’t have the benefits they have now, such as retirement, but it gets to be excessive,” Hash said.

In 2016, the city began offering a retirement package for civilian employees. The plan includes a matching contribution from the city.

A retirement plan is available to uniformed personnel through LOPFI, the state’s retirement system for law enforcement officers and firefighters.

The city council voted on Dec. 19 to place a 22-day cap of paid leave for civilian employees each year.

Hash said the action did not include any “grandfathering provisions”, and existing leave days in excess of 22 were revoked.

“Twenty-two is the maximum that is intended, regardless of seniority, assignment or employment,” Hash said.

“Since the city council formally approves the personnel handbook, I wanted to get it settled before the first of year with everyone knowing what their leave days were, so they could plan accordingly,” he said.

Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or tlyons@eldoradonews.com.

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