Home Money No breaks for Athens City Council on vacation accrual debate

No breaks for Athens City Council on vacation accrual debate

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Tensions rose at Athens City Council on Monday as council members and other city officials debated changing the vacation accrual process for city employees.

As it currently stands, city employees who have accumulated more than three years’ worth of vacation days may lose their extra time next year if a new proposed policy in enacted. The issue has come up several times in the past few months as the city council proposed an amendment to try to have employees use their extra days.

City Auditor Kathy Hecht spoke against the proposed policy in the first few minutes of the meeting. According to Hecht, language in the current amendment is contradictory and won’t solve the problems as they currently stand.

“Three people in my office read (the ordinance) this morning, and they all had different interpretations of it,” Hecht told the council. “There’s no way for us to enforce the ordinance because it has conflicting language.”

When the ordinance came up again toward the end of the council meeting, Councilman Jeffrey Risner, D-2nd Ward, invited citizens to speak before the council and share their thoughts on the issue.

Laura Kreider, the deputy auditor for the city, spoke to the council, making sure to clarify that she was speaking as a taxpayer rather than in her position as a city official.

“Who is supposed to pay for all these days off that people are taking?” Kreider said. “Oh, that’s right: the taxpayers. How do you think the people at low-paying jobs with minimal benefits when they’re asked to pay city taxes out of their income so city employees can get unlimited paid vacation? How many of those taxpayers get any paid vacation at all?”

Not everyone agreed with Kreider, though. Robert Shostak, an assistant professor at Ohio University and a lawyer Kreider called “Mr. Sue-the-city Shostak” in reference to past suits he had brought against Athens, thought it was employees’ rights to use what they had been promised.

“If an employee accumulates that vacation and already has that three years in the bank, they should be allowed to use it,” Shostak said. “You can’t take it away from them. They earned it; they get to burn it. That’s the difficulty of having an accrual basis.”

Several members of the council weighed in on the problem. Councilman Mike Canterbury, D-At Large, said when he worked as the county engineer, he was an employee who lost vacation days he had accrued past the three years point.

He said he didn’t think employees of the city would be too hurt by the proposed ordinances, but he also didn’t think the city would be too hurt by fixing the problem and giving the employees what they had earned.

“It was allowed to accrue and nothing was said,” Canterbury said later. “The city only has a few that are actually over, and we’re responsible as a public entity to pay them.”

Canterbury said there’s three sides to the issue: Auditor Hecht’s tax view, the average employee’s idea of what they have earned and the average citizen’s view of what they have to pay for.

“You have to take all three things into consideration when talking about topics like this,” Canterbury said. “I used to work public sector, and then I worked private sector, so I can see how angry everyone on all three sides can be. We all need to take a look at this to fix this.”

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