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Thursday, March 7, 2013 09:48 am

Use it or get paid

Park district pays for vacation time

The Springfield Park District has frozen spending after discovering more than $165,000 has been paid out since 2010 to employees for unused vacation time.

Mark Bartolozzi, director of finance and human resources for the park district, was curt in a Feb. 25 memo sent to top administrators.

“Effective immediately stop all expenditures from now until the end of the fiscal year,” Bartolozzi wrote. “Contact this office for emergency purchases only. Purchases of food for the animals at the zoo, propane for ice rink maintenance, fuel for vehicles, etc. are approved.”

It’s not clear whether the district is in financial straits and, if so, to what extent. Two days after the memo went out, the park board was silent on the spending freeze at a special meeting in which no motions or votes were taken on anything. Park board members also didn’t talk about the $165,000 in payouts until after the meeting, when Illinois Times confronted board president Leslie Sgro, who refused to confirm the amount of payouts or who had received them.

One of the recipients was former park district executive director Michael Stratton, who was paid nearly $35,000, according to the district’s financial records. He resigned last month after the park board discovered that he received a $500 check in December which he described as a salary advance that was paid back and an additional $2,100 in January that was described as payment for unused vacation.

The payments were made without knowledge of the park board, which had never approved a policy allowing payments to employees in lieu of vacation.

The payments began in late 2010, when Stratton and Bartolozzi sent a memo to non-union employees stating that the district would cut checks for unused vacation. Employees could accrue 24 months of vacation, according to the memo, but the district would write checks for anything more than that, according to the memo.

“Utilizing vacation time that is earned by the employee is strongly encouraged,” the administrators wrote. “Research shows that time away from work is healthy for the mind and body.”

Neither man took his own advice, according to district pay records.

After collecting more than $14,506 for 321 hours of unused vacation in 2010, Stratton got a check for $2,300 for nearly 49 hours of unused vacation the following year. It’s not clear whether those amounts were net pay or included withholding taxes and pension contributions. The checks kept coming in 2012, when Stratton got more than $5,000 for 165 hours of unused vacation on June 14, another $3,547 for 110 hours of unused vacation on Aug. 9 and an additional $2,684 on Nov. 29 for 80 hours of vacation, all of which were net amounts.

Including withholding taxes and pension contributions, the 2012 payments to Stratton cost the district $16,685 for 355 hours of vacation time. It’s not clear how Stratton accumulated nearly 10 weeks of vacation last year after payouts for unused time in 2010 and 2011.

Bartolozzi collected more than $4,300 in 2010 for nearly 120 hours of unused vacation, $275 in 2011 for slightly more than seven hours and $4,229 last year for nearly 110 hours of unused vacation. Other employees who got paid for unused vacation included Thornton Talon, director of the Henson Robinson Zoo, director of parks Elliott McKinley, a golf pro, four assistant golf pros and administrators at Nelson Recreation Center and Eisenhower Pool.

After last week’s board meeting, Sgro wouldn’t answer when asked what she would say to former park employees who have lost their jobs due to budget cutbacks while Stratton and other administrators got extra money. She also wouldn’t answer when asked how the payouts continued for more than two years, nor would she say how the board discovered them. She did say that the board is satisfied, at least so far, that no laws have been broken.

Sgro ignored an interview request. Instead of speaking with a reporter, she sent an email that included an explanation of the purpose of the most recent board meeting during which no motions were made and no votes were taken. Rather, board members said that an audit was needed and they heard from Mary O’Connor, who works for an auditing firm.

“(T)he meeting afforded the full board an opportunity to meet and discuss, in open session, the status of various matters that require immediate attention,” Sgro wrote.

Besides discussing an audit, the board talked about hiring a part-time human resources employee so that the functions of finance and human resources would be separate. Bartolozzi, who coauthored the 2010 memo urging employees to take vacation then took payouts for unused time in 2011 and 2012, is now the director of finance and human resources.

After the meeting, board member Tina Jannazzo, who chairs the board’s finance and personnel committee, said “no comment” when asked whether she has confidence in Bartolozzi. She volunteered that she did have confidence in district employees.

“Don’t over-publicize this,” Jannazzo said as a reporter fired questions about vacation payouts and district finances. Asked whether the board should conduct business in private, she said no.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

While the Springfield Park District rocks from a spending freeze, unauthorized six-figure vacation payouts and the resignation of the district’s executive director Michael Stratton, park board president Leslie Sgro is refusing interview requests. Here’s how Sgro responded when Illinois Times asked Sgro to speak. 

(Bruce Rushton's emails are in black and Leslie Sgro's emails are in red)

Hello  Ms. Sgro,

I have some questions about the park district. Could you  please give me a call at (217) 753-2226, ext. 122? It’s been my experience  that interviews are always more productive and efficient for everyone involved  rather than emailing back-and-forth. Here’s some of the stuff I’d like to talk  about.

  1. At the last board meeting, you said in open session  that you’d talked to some of your colleagues about doing a forensic audit.  When? And with whom did you talk? I have been to every public meeting since  Feb. 13 and have heard no such discussion. Did you talk about anything else  that came up in the last public board besides forensic audits? If so,  what?
  2. How is it that Mary O’Connor came to address the board at its most recent  meeting? Who invited her?
  3. What was the purpose of the most recent  board meeting, given that no motions were made and no votes were  taken?
  4. Tina Jannazzo told me after the most recent meeting that she  did not believe that the public should have to submit written FOIA requests to  obtain such basic documents as annual audits. Do you share that belief? If so,  why did Daniel Wright require a written FOIA request for copy of the  district’s FY 09 audit after a I left him a voicemail asking for same on Feb.  26? Why haven’t I received that? Will the district take the maximum five days  allowed by state law before responding to requests for such basic public  records? Along those same lines, Larry Estep says that he was promised a copy  of a memo sent to department heads rescinding the vacation payout policy  without going through the FOIA process. Now, he is being required to submit a  formal FOIA request for that memo. Why? It appears that Daniel Wright is now  handling FOIA requests for the district. Why? Do you believe that this is a  cost-efficient way to handle such requests?

Look forward to hearing  from you. Thanks.

Bruce Rushton
Staff Writer
Illinois  Times

Mr. Rushton,

I am happy to respond to your questions.

I regularly discuss the business of the Park District with many of the other Trustees on an individual basis. The Illinois Open Meetings Act permits members of the Board of Trustees, and other public bodies, to discuss public business at any time provided the number of Trustees participating in any contemporaneous discussion is less than a majority of a quorum.

The Special Board meeting on February 27th informed the public that the Board of Trustees is taking prompt and decisive steps to conduct appropriate due diligence and complete a thorough investigation regarding issues surrounding the departure of the District’s former Executive Director. Moreover, the meeting afforded the full Board an opportunity to meet and discuss, in open session, the status of various matters which require immediate attention. It is my understanding that Trustee Jannazzo, Chair of the Board’s Finance/HR Committee reached out to invite a representative of Sikich, LLP to provide a general explanation of an audit of this nature, in open session, for the benefit of the Board and the public.

As you know, Mr. Stratton’s departure left the District Administrative Office short-staffed at an immensely challenging time. Our dedicated staff is working tirelessly to manage the important work of the District during this transition. We are also committed to compliance with the Freedom of Information Act. The members of our community are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts and policies of those who represent them as public officials and public employees consistent with the terms of the Act. We will respond to all requests in the manner prescribed by law. We must, as the Freedom of Information Act contemplates, balance our obligation to respond to all record requests with the need to limit disruption of the District’s operations. We are currently processing many FOIA requests and will respond to each in compliance with the Act.


Still  waiting to hear from you.

As I mentioned in my previous message, email  is not the same as an interview, and for what I think are fairly obvious, and  good, reasons. I did provide an idea of what I wanted to talk about as a  courtesy. I’m at (217) 753-2226, ext. 122. Thanks.

Bruce  Rushton
Staff Writer
Illinois Times


I completely understand your point that you would prefer an interview to the back-and-forth of emails. Let me assure you that I would prefer to be unrestrained in discussing the Board’s actions to date and those which I anticipate will occur in the near future. However, because of the pending investigation into personnel issues and related financial matters, I am sure that you will appreciate that it would be inappropriate for me to agree to make a public statement at this stage of that investigation. So, I will follow the advice of the District’s legal counsel and respectfully decline your request for an interview at this time. In the meantime, the District is working to comply with each of your various FOIA requests in a timely manner.

Leslie Sgro

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