‘Ship has sailed’ on vacation pay for prosecutor’s office

Prosecutor’s office employees expecting a payout for years of unused vacation time will be getting the pay in their Monday checks.

The Lake County Council Tuesday made no public mention of the payouts, which had not been on the agenda but came up Thursday during a study session. At the time council members balked that county ordinance prohibits the rollover of more than one week of vacation time into the next year once they learned the prosecutor’s office intended to pay out about $136,000 in unused time to 13 employees.

One employee, who had more than 1,700 hours in banked vacation time, agreed to take a pay out for 860 of those hours and is slated to receive $44,000, according to officials.

According to the ordinance, any vacation time not used by the end of the year is forfeited. Employees may roll over one week of time, but must use it by April 1 or lose it.

Council Attorney Thomas O’Donnell Tuesday after the regular council meeting said by the time the council and attorneys became aware of the payments Thursday during the workshop, “the ship had sailed.”

“You would have had to stop payroll for 2,000 employees,” O’Donnell said. The ACHs for direct deposit already were transmitted to the bank. There was no way to cancel just the 13 employees, so all payroll would had to have been canceled, he said. Due to the time of year, the cancellation also would have impacted employee W-2s. He said the auditor made an executive decision to move the checks through the system.

“The detriment to the 2,000 didn’t justify the $136,000,” O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell said Prosecutor Bernie Carter wanted to withdraw the payments after the council raised concerns Thursday, but it was already too late.

Council President Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, said he would defer to the council’s legal experts on the matter because he previously had never experienced this situation.

“I will follow whatever legal advice my counsel advises me and take whatever action needs to be taken,” he said.

Bob Neumair, administrative supervisor for the Lake County Prosecutor’s Office, said Thursday at the workshop the amount is so high because a number of employees have built up unused vacation time over a long period of years. Many deputy prosecutors are not able to take vacation time because of their court schedules. It is difficult for an attorney to leave in the middle of a case.

Councilwoman Christine Cid, D-East Chicago, first raised the issue of the ordinance violation Thursday. She said Tuesday this is not the first time something like this has happened.

“We have a pension plan. I know I have complained about it before, the courts having their own policy which I have never seen,” Cid said. Court workers are county employees who take all the other county benefits and should have to abide by the same laws, she said.

Carter could not be reached Tuesday afternoon.

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