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Saturday, April 19, 2014
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Published: 1/16/2005

'Benefits' of a good county job

Through no fault of reporter Dale Emch, only the last paragraph of his Friday story on sheriff department payouts made much sense.

An account of Lucas County Sheriff Jim Telb's magnanimous payouts for stockpiled sick-time ended with a quote from someone in the engineer's office, explaining why workers trade unclaimed sick days for cash. The engineer said:

"The reason you have this policy is to encourage people not to use their sick leave except when they need it."

See? Makes sense (kind of). Of course, another big reason workers shouldn't abuse sick time is to make sure they still have some when they, um, get sick.

But first let's explain how Mr. Telb mistakes taxpayer dollars for sick-time Monopoly money. Here's what you need to know:

Ohio says public service workers with at least 10 years on the job may be paid for one-fourth of their unused sick days, not to exceed 240 hours or 30 work days. But political entities may rejigger the formula. In Lucas County, workers can cash in a third of their unused sick days, up to 320 hours or 40 days.

In the case of departments that rely on the county general fund for most of its budget, however, more generous, Telb-style payouts need commissioner approval - which hasn't happened at the sheriff's department.

No matter.

Free-spending Mr. Telb handed out $163,000 in sick time payouts to four nonunion employees. But judging by county policy (if you bother with that sort of thing), it seems he doled out $127,000 more than should have been granted.

Take Maj. Ron Keel, whose check for unused sick time was $47,591. County policy indicates he got some $37,400 more than was owed him. Said the major: "You don't build up sick time by calling in sick and taking off."

Uh, no you certainly don't. Then again, employers give workers sick time FOR WHEN THEY ARE SICK.

It's not, appearances to the contrary, meant to be a windfall or extra savings account.

But there's really more here than just the nitpicky accounting of personnel bean counters. What happened in the sheriff's department typifies an attitude too easily found in government offices everywhere: We're special. We deserve more.

Let all the other dumb saps get stuck with the penny-pinching practices of the miserly private sector. In the land of "If It's 4:10 p.m. on Friday and We're Still At Work, Something's Gone Horribly Wrong," the expectation of entitlement rules.

Philosophically speaking, there's not much difference between the way Congress raises its own pay and assures itself superior health care, and the way Sheriff Telb cavalierly handed out thousands of taxpayer dollars.

Do we even need laws or policies to know this practice is foolish?



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