Call this the open line, plus a bit of news. To add to a pending question about whether former Mayor Mark Stodola is entitled to $173,000 or more for unused leave time during 12 years as mayor, City Attorney Tom Carpenter last week asked circuit court whether two current and one former city district court judges are entitled to pay for unused leave time from the period before their offices became full state judgeships, which carry no pay accrual. The judges are seeking less than when the Arkansas Blog first reported the dispute.
Sometime this year, the City Board must decide how much Stodola should be paid for his claim that he, like City Manager Bruce Moore is able to accrue pay for unused vacation and sick days. No other elected official in Arkansas has such a benefit. The pay is considered the full compensation for the job (plus retirement benefits, health insurance in many cases and perks such as a car or car allowance.) But there’s a similar claim concerning city judges.
We first reported in 2016 that Traffic Judge Vic Fleming, Environmental Court Judge Mark Leverett and former Criminal Court Judge Alice Lightle were seeking $237,000 in payment for leave time they said they accrued before their judgeships were fully added to the state system Jan. 1, 2017. Their pay had always been set by the state legislature but they were referred to in law as city employees and the city paid the salaries. Carpenter argued then and now that payments to them were limited by the statutory pay level, which they received. He said the city had no authority on jurisdiction or on who could fill the seats. He said any past such payments to former officials were in error.
In the case of the judges, there’s been some division among city board members on making the payment. The initial claim was budgeted, but withdrawn from consideration at a sensitive time, with city employees facing loss of pay raises and possible furloughs.
The dispute has lingered without resolution. Now it has been tossed to Judge Alice Gray’s court in the form of a request for a declaratory judgment.
Efforts have been made to settle the dispute out of court, which might explain why the amount now being sought by the judges is significantly less than first reported. These are now the payments being sought by the three:
* Fleming, $45,641
* Lightle, who left the bench and lives in Colorado, $21,288
* Leverett, who was allowed a part-time law practice during the time he’s claiming unused leave time, $11,509.
All the claims represent combinations of unused vacation and sick days.
The city again enters a year where many employees will not receive a pay raise beyond step increases if entitled. The City Board also soon must decide how much to pay Stodola for accrued time he claims. It recently voted to increase his pension substantially, by placing him in a pension plan he’d not joined that will give him $80,000 a year plus a COLA for life. He also was allowed to keep nearly $200,000 he’d contributed to a different city pension plan.