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Daley officials’ unused vacation costs taxpayers $9.5M

Updated: November 16, 2011 1:30AM

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s 12th and final chief-of-staff Ray Orozco walked out with an $81,451 check for accrued vacation days, $5,143 more than the payment Orozco authorized to former Police Supt. Jody Weis for 64 unused vacation days.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported in June that Weis and his chief of staff Mike Masters were among 1,026 city employees paid $7.4 million for their unused vacation days since September 2010 in the transition from Daley to Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

On Tuesday, City Hall released the final list. It includes the names of 93 other city employees — led by Orozco — who received $2.14 million in additional payments.

Orozco got two vacation checks: one for $76,339 for 112 unused days from the 29 years he spent in the Fire Department, the last two years as fire commissioner. The other check was for $5,112 for 7 1/2 unused days from his time in the mayor’s office.

He currently serves as chief executive officer of After School Matters, the award-winning arts, education and sports program founded by Daley’s wife, Maggie to train and occupy Chicago teenagers after school.

The new list of vacation pay-outs also includes: former press secretary Jacquelyn Heard ($29,649); former mayoral aide Patrick McLain ($25,479); former deputy press secretaries Jodi Kawada ($20,102) and Lance Lewis ($16,788); former Inter-governmental Affairs director Joan Coogan ($17,359); former mayoral photographer Antonio Dickey ($17,678); former Chief Financial Officer Gene Saffold ($11,736) and former Housing and Economic Development Commissioner Chris Raguso ($10,503).

That means that Chicago taxpayers spent $9.54 million to compensate 1,119 employees for unused vacation time thanks to a liberal policy that Emanuel has vowed to eliminate. The new benefits policy is due out later this week. Among other things, it’s expected to limit the number of accrued vacation days that can be carried over from one year to the next to as few as five.

Both Weis and Masters benefited from the former superintendent’s decision to change the policy governing vacation carryover to allow “command staff members” to carry up to 39 unused vacation days from one year to the next “when circumstances prohibited the use of current and prior year’s allotments.”

The change was made in June, 2010, after Weis entered the final year of his three-year, $310,000-a-year contract. Orozco signed off on Weis’ vacation carryover request, records show.

Police Supt. Garry McCarthy moved immediately to limit that. He’s allowing command staff members to carry over a maximum of 25 vacation days from one year to the next. Emanuel’s overhaul will impose further limits.

Emanuel has declared an end to the days when city employees turned unused vacation days into an “alternate form of compensation.”

“It’s appropriate to have vacation days. [But], it should not become an alternative form of compensation. And you cannot have the public sector out of line with the private sector,” Emanuel said last month.

“I have asked now for a review of that to make sure that the vacation days [don’t] become what it isn’t. ... [The review will] come up with some standards so vacation days, which should be granted for vacation days, do not become an alternative form of compensation and become abused.”

The Civic Federation has urged Emanuel to limit to 14 the number of unused vacation days employees can cash out upon resignation, just as most private sector companies do. City Hall sources said the mayor is prepared to go even further.

“What was done in the past was done in the past. There’ll be new standards going forward. I’ve done that for salaries. I’ve done that for positions. I’ve done that for credit card. I’m now doing it for cars. And we will soon be doing it as it related to vacation days,” he said when he ordered the policy change.

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