HOLMBERG: Sick leave scandal could choke Richmond’s chief leader

Posted at 1:07 AM, May 20, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-20 07:36:27-04

Richmond mayor Dwight Jones guides the city. Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Bryon Marshall runs it.

That’s why he makes about $50,000 a year more than the mayor - $178,000 base salary compared with the mayor’s $125,000.

Marshall’s second-in-command, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer  Sharon Judkins, also made more than the mayor - about $165,000 – at least  until she stepped down suddenly last Friday.

In the winter we reported Judkins refused to make a series of changes recommended by the city auditor to save money and smooth operations in the city’s new information technology system.

As she prepared to leave, according to City Auditor Umesh Dalal,  her lone boss, CAO Marshall, signed off on a separation plan that would have given her three full years of serving as a top official, instead of the two years and two months she had under her belt.

The three years of service is a magic number. It means her retirement – for life - would be based on her compensation as a top official making some $165,000 a year, instead of a much smaller sum.

Judkins, a professional friend of Marshall’s who apparently got the job here on his recommendation, had worked for the city in much- lower positions from the early 80s to 2000. She left the city for 12 years, working in California.

From the mayor’s press release about her appointment in March of 2012:

“Prior to returning to the City of Richmond to accept the DCAO position, she served as the Chief Administrative Officer of the Santa Clara Valley Water District in San Jose, CA. As a key executive for the second largest special district in California, she directed the operations of Budget and Financial Planning; Human Resources and Labor Relations; Information Management; Corporate Business Services, including Contract Administration and Procurement; Fleet Services; and the Ethics and Equal Opportunity programs. Serving as a member of the district’s leadership team for approximately eight years, in two separate terms, she also served as Interim CEO and Deputy Administrative Officer where she provided leadership for the Financial and Corporate Services Division and the Office of Emergency Services.

Judkins earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in History/Political Science from Virginia Union University and a Master of Arts in Human Resources Development with a focus on Organizational Development from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.”

Auditor Dalal wrote that Judkins would reach that full three-year-threshold by being given  807 hours of unused sick leave from when she worked for the city that last time – 15 years ago. That old sick leave would’ve given her $64,562, he wrote.

He also found 147 hours of extra, unearned vacation time that Judkin’s Human Resources department had said she was due, giving her an additional  $11,766.

Those extra hours of vacation and sick leave bumped her up to the magic three years, meaning she would get an extra $16,593 per year for life.

Estimating she lives another 20 years would mean this total deal would’ve been worth nearly $410,000, Dalal wrote in a report released Monday.

But as his report was being researched, apparently, Judkin’s departure negotiations fell apart.

Marshall wrote in a response Monday that calculating the additional vacation time was indeed in error.

He said the concept of using that much saved sick time “as a means of maximizing a retirement annuity based on services rendered” initially appeared to be proper. “My decision was based upon what turned out to be flawed advice provided to me at the time by human resource professionals,” he wrote in a statement.

Marshall said this was simply a case of assisting a public servant in transitioning from employment, something a quality city does for the people who do the work.

Marshall also wrote the separation process was interrupted by Judkin’s unspecified illness and “pressing demands on the CAO’s time (e.g. Budget negotiations, Shockoe Revitalization efforts, etc.”

The inference in his response is the flaws in the separation agreement would’ve been spotted and stopped without the oversight by the city auditor. Therefore, nothing improper actually occurred.

So now, Judkins will get a lower retirement package and a standard severance - basically three  months of salary, is my understanding.

The auditor’s allegations – in essence, fraud – have been forwarded to the  Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Herring for examination.

Tammy Hawley, the mayor’s press secretary, said the mayor supports that decision and takes the allegations seriously.

This is pretty much a shocker . . . not only that this kind of separation agreement could’ve been designed, but it apparently happened after the auditor had already been looking into Judkin’s office and was on high alert.

It also comes as the mayor’s legacy development plan – building a ballpark and slavery museum in Shockoe Bottom while completely redeveloping the old ballpark area – remains under siege and is lurching toward a controversial vote.

Can Marshall survive this scandal?

And can the mayor’s ballpark proposal survive without Marshall?

Stay tuned . . .

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