Paid not to work - Coeur d'Alene Press: Local News

Paid not to work

Wages paid so attorney can get extra benefits

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Posted: Friday, April 11, 2014 12:00 am

COEUR d'ALENE - A third party - the county's insurer - is paying the wages for a Kootenai County deputy prosecutor until he's eligible for lifetime benefits through the state's retirement plan, PERSI.

Kenneth D. Stone hasn't worked a day for the county since county commissioners created a new position for him and re-hired him as a county employee in December. As part of a settlement agreement, the Idaho Counties Risk Management Plan paid the county an upfront lump sum of more than $30,000 as reimbursement for his wages.

Stone also received $315,000 from ICRMP to settle a federal suit he filed against the county after he was fired in March 2011 following a sexual harassment investigation. Court records show Stone, who was hired by then-Prosecutor Bill Douglas in 2006, had been the subject of several complaints of sexual harassment dating to 2007.

His wrongful termination suit alleged Prosecutor Barry McHugh mishandled the investigation and Stone's firing and appeal.

Some details of the "confidential settlement" were disclosed in a mutually crafted press release after a settlement agreement was signed by McHugh, Commissioner Todd Tondee, Stone and Stone's wife, attorney Saviraj Grewal, last December. Neither the county nor ICRMP's attorney, Peter Erbland, would release the settlement amount, saying they had agreed not to.

Public records requests filed by The Press revealed ICRMP had paid both the $315,000 settlement and written two checks to the county - one for Stone's wages and the other for his Idaho State Bar dues.

Until this week, the county would not confirm reports that Stone wasn't working or say whether he was on paid leave. Repeated attempts by The Press to reach Stone at the prosecutor's office have been unsuccessful. He is not listed in any employee directories and his contact information in the 1st District Court directory is for his wife's law firm.

"I think he's on administrative leave," Commissioner Dan Green said Wednesday, though Tondee said he wasn't sure if administrative leave was the correct term.

"He's an employee and that is based upon the agreement we have," Tondee said. "Technically, no he's not on leave, but technically, yes."

Tondee said he "would think it's not uncommon" for a third-party, like ICRMP, to be paying the wages of a public employee.

"I don't recall if it's happened in the county," he said. "We have paid settlement claims that have been reimbursed by our insurance company. Whether it's wages or an outright check makes no difference."

However, in Stone's case, it does make a difference. If the county keeps Stone on the payroll until he's vested in PERSI, he qualifies for lifetime benefits.

"It is common for PERSI retirement to be part of a property settlement in a divorce," PERSI spokesman Kelly Cross said Thursday. "Other than divorce, I do not know if there have been other types of settlements where the parties addressed PERSI benefits."

Although Stone's PERSI eligibility was a condition of the settlement agreement, it's unclear if PERSI was a party to the agreement.

"I don't know if PERSI was consulted," said Scott Nass, an attorney whose firm represented ICRMP. He declined to discuss additional details, saying those who signed off on the settlement agreed no more information would be shared with the public than what was in the December press release.

Tondee, however, said PERSI was not consulted.

"It's a county employee," he said. "It's a county decision. If we're making this kind of settlement, we wouldn't contact PERSI and say, 'We are going to do this, is this OK?' It's an employee matter."

Cross said it is up to the employer to determine if a person is PERSI eligible.

According to PERSI rules, an employee is defined as "any person who normally works 20 hours or more per week for an employer ... and who receives salary for services rendered for such employer."

PERSI rules say a person is "not an employee" if they are "provided sheltered employment or made-work by a public employer in an employment or industries program maintained for the benefit of such person."

The phrase "made-work" has been in the PERSI statute since 1963, Cross said. He said it's not defined, though, and he isn't aware of any cases interpreting that phrase.

"PERSI's general understanding of that phrase is that it may be used to describe work made to provide employment," Cross said. "Since it's not defined in PERSI statute and since there is no case law interpreting it, PERSI cannot say for sure if that is how a court would interpret it."

Asked if the new position the county created for Stone, with a salary reimbursed by ICRMP, is "made-work," Tondee said, "That's covered under the settlement."

Green said, as a commissioner, he's not familiar with ICRMP having paid or reimbursed the county for employee wages in the past.

"I would like to think before ICRMP enters into a recommendation for settlement they have done their due diligence being consistent with statute," he said.

The Stone settlement is one of several paid to county employees in recent months. Former community development director Scott Clark was paid $30,000 and human resources employee Christina Anderson received $12,000.

The county wouldn't release details of either payment, classifying both as personnel matters and part of a "release and settlement agreement."

In a similar case in southern Idaho, The Post Register newspaper and a substitute school teacher successfully sued the Blackfoot School District in 2012 to obtain a copy of a separation agreement the school board made with the superintendent that included a $220,000 payout.

As part of the deal the school board struck with former superintendent Scott Crane, they also agreed to a "nondisclosure agreement" to hide the payout and then put the document in Crane's personnel file to shield it from public view, according to the Associated Press.

Sixth District Judge David Nye ordered the records be released and ruled that adding a nondisclosure clause didn't make a public record subject to the personnel records exemption under Idaho's Public Records Law.

Nye wrote in his ruling that "everything about this case smacks of a public agency trying to hide its decision-making from the public."

Kootenai County commissioners on Wednesday posted notice of a special meeting scheduled for 4 p.m. today. According to the agenda, the commissioners will meet in executive session with legal counsel to "discuss the legal ramifications of and legal options for pending litigation, or controversies not yet being litigated but imminently likely to be litigated" involving Stone.

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  • milburnschmidt posted at 5:09 pm on Sun, Apr 13, 2014.

    milburnschmidt Posts: 1160

    Paying folks not to work is becoming quite fashionable these days. Instead of passing legislation to encourage businesses to come back to the united states and employ americans democrats want to extend benefits and provide insurance so americans can stay home and write poetry according to nancy Pelosi. Because of Govt policies employers are cutting back hours and employment and then ask for millions more immigrants to enter the country to fill jobs. Perhaps citizens who pay these bills the government runs up we need a tax payer advocate to represent us when these silly arrangements are made like above. Small wonder they keep the details secret the employee and those who acted improperly should all be fired or pay the bills themselves for their mistakes.

  • Tim Herzog posted at 4:50 pm on Sat, Apr 12, 2014.

    Tim Herzog Posts: 407

    One more nail in the coffin for Todd. I don't know the real details on all of this but I were elected, I sure would find out if something happened like this on my watch!

    Tim Herzog
    Candidate for District 1, County Commissioner
    "Striving for Common Sense in local government"

  • dfg posted at 9:41 pm on Fri, Apr 11, 2014.

    dfg Posts: 174

    Please tell about your "inside" information then.

  • citygirl posted at 3:50 pm on Fri, Apr 11, 2014.

    citygirl Posts: 10

    Check out the City of Post Falls Police - also known to do this. Administrative leave for an officer for over 7 months with pay. Never publicized.

  • Veeeee posted at 3:34 pm on Fri, Apr 11, 2014.

    Veeeee Posts: 422

    Excellent reporting thank you!

  • Truthful posted at 2:56 pm on Fri, Apr 11, 2014.

    Truthful Posts: 135

    A real reporter! Bravo, CDA Press, there is hope yet!

  • SMN1962 posted at 2:31 pm on Fri, Apr 11, 2014.

    SMN1962 Posts: 102

    greyhound, you are wrong on at least one point. "At will" and "right to work" are two completely different concepts. "At will" means, as you said that you can be terminated for any reason. "Right to work" deals with an employee's right to not join a union if they don't want to.

  • benfranklin posted at 2:02 pm on Fri, Apr 11, 2014.

    benfranklin Posts: 50

    Gh2, nothing here is even remotely close to Bell, CA. Nothing.

  • dfg posted at 1:48 pm on Fri, Apr 11, 2014.

    dfg Posts: 174

    Thank you press for investigating FINALLY! Even if insurer paid, won't the premiums go up as they always do? Since the payout is so high? So the taxpayers will pay in the end!!!

  • Why Not posted at 1:47 pm on Fri, Apr 11, 2014.

    Why Not Posts: 5242

    Blaming the commissioners for mishandling an apparent harassment case might be a bit strong. They are in the mix of course, but this problem stems from when Douglas was the Prosecutor and he apparently blew off complaints. I guess we are lucky there haven’t been a bunch of hostile workplace claims resulting from managements failing to adequately address complaints related to this individual. The crux of the matter though is that the county is too big to be run by politicians anymore. It’s up to the citizens of the county to decide whether the county will continue to be run blindly, or we pony up and hire a professional director who is responsible for the entire organization.

  • Jullee posted at 1:45 pm on Fri, Apr 11, 2014.

    Jullee Posts: 566

    Commissioners did not have a lot of say in this.
    Look to the culprit the little perv Stone and his Attorney wife.
    Lawyers !!!! What more can you say.

  • greyhound2 posted at 1:43 pm on Fri, Apr 11, 2014.

    greyhound2 Posts: 897

    Private sector employees in Idaho are hired "At Will" and can be terminated with no reason, the essence of "Right to Work". Most private sector employees, except for Avista, work in business and industry with multiple choices available. Price too high, get somebody else.

    For years, public employees were not allowed to unionize as they were "monopolies" with no other choices available. In return, they received "job security", "tenure" and other job protections.

    About 20 years ago, public employee unions were quick to realize their monopoly power. Overseen by elected officials who don't want to receive irrate phone calls all night about kids home from school, the refrigerator defrosting due to a lack of power, no water flowing through the pipes and all for a four year low paying job where somebody else down the road can take the heat.

    In the private sector, somebody says they had a bad day so clean your desk out and the public sector needs complete documentation or face a lawsuit costing taxpayers millions. Reminds of Bell, California, where the Mayor and staff voted themselves millions in raises and salaries including the Police Chief who ended up exempt, as he was a public employee and didn't vote and walked out the door with millions of taxpayer money. The elected officials went to jail, however, and the Police Chief to the beach in Rio for a couple of Margaritas..

  • sierra posted at 1:04 pm on Fri, Apr 11, 2014.

    sierra Posts: 82

    I mean wow!!!!! Progress is man's ability to complicate simplicity.

  • Miketeague posted at 12:08 pm on Fri, Apr 11, 2014.

    Miketeague Posts: 2583

    The commissioners might not have directly negotiated the settlement but they had to agree on it and they are the ones that screwed up firing the pinhead in the beginning. But what the hey it’s not their money.

  • 425 posted at 10:29 am on Fri, Apr 11, 2014.

    425 Posts: 113

    Is there any proof that a commissioner was involved in the settlement? I'm pretty sure they are restricted from talking about details of a personnel file, so if they weren't directly involved in the suit then they are simply the messenger with a tongue tied by legalities. Just asking....

    If they are just the messenger then they are not the ones to be pointed at here... It's just a sign of our litigation society.

  • BuddhaBob posted at 8:34 am on Fri, Apr 11, 2014.

    BuddhaBob Posts: 3

    I can't help but recall the $3.7M verdict against the City of Coeur d'Alene in the Officer Dixon wrongful termination case. Had the city settled that case for $315,000 they would have saved the taxpayer $3.3M. I wonder if the the county took that into consideration when they agreed to this settlement?

  • Miketeague posted at 8:23 am on Fri, Apr 11, 2014.

    Miketeague Posts: 2583

    You just might want to check that. This song was written and played by an all republican band. Next step is to fire each other and collect life long pensions. What is that saying, oh yes, republican is as republican does.

  • CaiusCosades posted at 7:55 am on Fri, Apr 11, 2014.

    CaiusCosades Posts: 380

    "Paid Not to Work" sounds like a new Obama program!

  • ancientemplar posted at 7:19 am on Fri, Apr 11, 2014.

    ancientemplar Posts: 1283

    I do believe that ICRMP is a taxpayer funded self insure agency. I look forward to the outcome of a law suit. We need more transparency from our elected officials.

  • oldone posted at 7:14 am on Fri, Apr 11, 2014.

    oldone Posts: 75

    At least hand the guy a broom and have him do something!

  • taxpayer posted at 7:02 am on Fri, Apr 11, 2014.

    taxpayer Posts: 343

    the voters will re elect the incumbents running for re election here, that is how smart the voters here are

  • Why Not posted at 6:07 am on Fri, Apr 11, 2014.

    Why Not Posts: 5242

    Amateur hour at the county, time to rethink the roll of politics, the commissioners and department heads; the county has outgrown its business model.

  • garlic snob posted at 4:17 am on Fri, Apr 11, 2014.

    garlic snob Posts: 60

    ......and we foot the tab

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