January 31, 2013 | Volume 43, No. 4

Contract includes 48 days of leave

In June 2012, Haines Borough Assembly member Debra Schnabel asked Mayor Stephanie Scott for a report on manager Mark Earnest’s accrued and used leave. Schnabel was concerned about Earnest’s frequent absences. Schnabel learned Earnest hadn’t come close to depleting the paid time off his contract allows.

According to his $108,000 annual contract, Earnest may take 48 paid days off per year, not including 11 paid holidays: 25 days in annual leave (also referred to as vacation time), five in executive leave, two in personal leave and 16 in sick days.

According to chief fiscal officer Jila Stuart, from the beginning of Earnest’s employment on January 11, 2010, through Jan. 15, 2013, Earnest has used 647.5 hours of leave, or nearly 81 days. He retains an unused balance of 438.91 hours, a little less than 55 days. The totals include all four types of leave.

The borough can’t provide a breakdown of the types of leave Earnest has remaining because of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which prohibits the disclosure of sick leave information, said borough clerk Julie Cozzi.

Schnabel said she inquired about Earnest’s leave because she was concerned his absence was affecting productivity. “It’s a lot of time not to be there,” she said.

“I wouldn’t say it’s extraordinary. But it has to be monitored until one is sure or convinced that the work of the organization is being well-managed,” Schnabel said.

Earnest receives the same amount of annual personal leave (2) and annual sick leave (16) as all permanent, full-time, non-union borough employees. He also receives the same amount of annual executive leave (5) as all borough employees who qualify for executive leave – the manager, chief fiscal officer, clerk, police chief, tourism director, and director of public facilities.

Earnest, though, accrues 25 days in annual leave over the course of a year, and he started at that level when his employment began. Similarly-ranked borough employees working under individual contracts – Stuart, Cozzi, and Police Chief Gary Lowe – receive comparatively less.

Stuart and Cozzi are subject to the same incremental annual leave schedule as other permanent, full-time, non-union employees, which is based on the amount of time the person has been employed by the borough. For example, for between seven and nine years of service, an employee accrues 20 days in annual leave; for more than 10 years, 24 days.

Lowe’s contract allows him 15 days of annual leave.

New union and non-union borough employees starting on the job accrue 12 days of annual leave in their first year.

Stuart said Earnest did not negotiate for his annual leave. “It was Tom Bolen (the previous borough manager) that negotiated that. And then we had an interim manager, Bob Ward, and Ward was tasked with getting together a contract for Mark Earnest and it was Ward who kind of drafted that contract and presented it to the assembly and to Mark,” Stuart said.

“Maybe Mark would have negotiated for more if he was offered less, but he just signed the contract that was given to him as far as I know,” she added.

Mayor Scott said employee compensation packages, and particularly leave, were probably crafted with the idea of competition in mind.

“I think that’s how the terms were developed in the first place, is somebody looked at the realm of similarly-sized communities and said, ‘How can we be competitive? How can we get the best person for the job? What do we need to offer? If we’re not going to offer a higher gross salary, how do we entice candidates?’” Scott said.

Earnest appears to receive slightly more leave than other managers in similarly-sized boroughs. According to Michelle Gihl, the administrative assistant to the manager and deputy clerk of the Skagway Borough, manager Tom Smith’s 8.5-month contract allotted 25 days of annual leave and 10 hours per month of sick leave. Gihl said Skagway’s manager does not receive executive or personal leave.

Kim Flores, clerk of the Wrangell Borough, said the Wrangell manager receives 22 annual leave days per year and 12 sick days per year. Flores said the Wrangell manager does not receive executive or personal leave.

Managers are paid $95,312 in Skagway and $112,044 in Wrangell.

After approving Earnest’s contract extension until July 2014 during the Jan. 22 meeting, the assembly voted to forward Earnest’s contract to the Personnel Committee for review. Scott said the contract will come before the assembly for approval whether the committee recommends changes or not.