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Officials balk at payout to departing employee

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GREENFIELD — A big payout to a departing employee has Hancock County officials scratching their heads and considering an overhaul in the county’s personnel policy.

The Hancock County Council last week was asked to approve more than $20,000 in payout to Cindy Crispin, a deputy prosecutor who resigned Jan. 9 after working for the county two years.

Ultimately, the council approved the compensation. But the high figure, mixed with confusion over county vs. state policy on departing employees, has several officials saying more needs to be done to rein in expenses.

Most of the payout was for compensatory time. A normal county government work week is 35 hours, and if a county employee works between 36 and 40 hours, they are to be compensated on an hour-to-hour basis, Prosecutor Michael Griffin said. Anything over 40 hours can be paid time-and-a-half.

While Griffin would prefer his deputies to take time off instead of being paid, that didn’t happen in Crispin’s case. He said the workload is high; according to the Hancock County auditor’s office, Crispin had accrued 405 hours of compensatory time over two years – totaling $15,467.

Chief Deputy Tami Napier told the council Crispin’s payout was “about $18,000,” but Auditor Robin Lowder said after the meeting that unused sick time, vacation time and retirement benefits brought the total payout to $23,706. She said the high figure was rare: Most department heads, she said, require employees to burn off the accrued hours through comp time.

New councilmen Marc Huber and Kent Fisk were the most vocal about the money, saying government rules are different from private businesses.

“I definitely don’t like (that) expense out of the blue, right out of the gate,” Huber said. “And for there to be so much confusion on why, that’s a big question of mine.”

Crispin’s unused vacation time had accrued over two years. But her sick time, totaling roughly $2,100, kicked in Jan. 1. County employees are given all of their sick time at the beginning of the year; because Crispin left after working one week, she was entitled to the money, according to county policy.

Fisk said he’d like to see the county’s executive branch reconsider its personnel policy. He said there should be clear rules on how much compensation time is allowed to build up, and when personal sick time and vacation time may add up for department employees.

The board of commissioners has been working on overhauling its employee handbook for over a year. Commissioner Tom Stevens said compensation time, vacation days and sick time will be addressed in the new handbook. Ultimately, the county council will be able to look over the handbook and give feedback before approval.

But Griffin points out that the prosecutor’s office is technically a state agency and may not be subject to county policies. Griffin said he’s writing a policy for his office in which he will ask his deputy prosecutors to take time off during judicial conferences. If judges are not in court, for example, it would be an ideal time for employees to take a few days off.

Council President Bill Bolander said the council has given departing employees compensation for their accumulated comp time in the past, but because deputy prosecutors have a high hourly rate of pay, this was a particularly high expense. He said if deputy prosecutors are working over 35 hours regularly, perhaps the county should pay them for their extra hours outright as opposed to having the time accumulate.

How the payout was made was also a point of confusion among county officials last week. Griffin wanted Crispin to be paid out of the diversion fund, an account made up of fines that that offenders pay into. But the council said there wasn’t enough money in the fund, so they took half of the payout out of a tax-funded severance account.

Griffin said he’s “focused like a laser on the tax burden to the citizens” and was disappointed the entire amount wasn’t paid out of the diversion fund.

Griffin said he wanted Crispin to take the compensatory time off. But the workload is high for deputy prosecutors, partly because Griffin is deployed with the Army in Cuba. He said the case load is high for all five deputy prosecutors. Crispin had been working on 129 cases; the state standard is 60.

“We’re not down quite one lawyer, but I’ve remained as involved as I could,” Griffin said.

He said he could have asked for the county council to hire another deputy prosecutor, but that would have been even more expensive than accumulated compensation time.

The council did, however, vote to replace Crispin. The prosecutor’s office may hire a new deputy as early as next week.

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