The Little Rock City Board last night, as expected, sweetened retiring Mayor Mark Stodola’s pension with changes worth $890,000 over time, but held off a decision on paying him more than $170,000 he claims he’s owed for unused vacation time.
The vote was 6-2 on the pension, with Directors Kathy Webb and B.J. Wyrick voting no, Ken Richardson voting present and Erma Hendrix absent. The change will pay Stodola $80,000 a year, with a COLA and spousal survivor benefits, under a relatively new city defined benefit retirement plan in which Stodola was not a member. That plan normally requires 25 years of participation for half-pay retirement, but those in favor of the change said another state law that seems to require half-pay to retired mayors statewide dictated the change.
The benefit change will come at a cost of $890,000, an actuary has said, but will be reduced by the city’s 17 percent match of salary to Stodola’s private plan during his 12 years as mayor. He’ll get to keep his own contributions, roughly $200,000, in a lump sum rollover. The cost to the city will be reduced by that contribution to near $500,000, payable at $60,000 a year for 10 years.
The Board hung up on a discussion of whether Stodola was also entitled to claim unused vacation time, a benefit no other elected official receives. He’s seeking 54 weeks worth, or some $173,000. He contends he’s due it because he’s required to get the same benefits as the city manager, whose contract specifically provides for accrual of unused time off (recently adjusted to a six-month cap.)
City Director Capi Pecksaid she’d heard from constituents about the pay for Stodola’s accrued vacation. She won a vote to table the discussion until January, after Stodola leaves office, when the discussion grew contentious. City Director Doris Wright said there should be a cap on pay accrual. (The city also should review the policy and consider scrapping it entirely for elected officials to follow general custom in elective office in Arkansas.) Director Lance Hines said the payment made up for the fact that Stodola had received no raises in his $160,000 salary. But that was a product of city board votes. Stodola attempted to enter the discussion after absenting himself from the retirement discussion, but City Attorney Tom Carpenter said he could not do so. Once no longer a city official, Stodola may speak and he told the Democrat-Gazette he would do so.