Former employee who accepted $7,000 settlement offer for retire-rehire practices scolds city officials for their role.
No longer pressured by his union to stay silent, Ray Skotnicky chastised city officials for encouraging and assisting longtime city workers such as himself to take part in a retire-rehire practice that would later get them fired.
Skotnicky was one of 17 former city workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union to accept Friday a $7,000 settlement offer, effectively forfeiting his right to sue the city and ending any chance of arbitration.
Canton City Council accepted the city’s end of the bargain Monday, voting 9-1 with one abstention. Councilwoman Mary Cirelli, D-at-large, voted no. Councilman Edmond Mack, D-8, abstained because he works for the law firm that is representing 10 other nonunion workers who are suing the city over their firings.
“I’ve never seen or heard of anything as egregious as what the city did to us,” said Skotnicky, 59, a former industrial-waste inspector at the city sewer plant who was hired in 1975. “At no time did any of us intend to retire, resign or otherwise voluntarily separate our employment with the city.”
On Jan. 13, 2012, the city fired 30 employees for taking part in a flawed retire-rehire practice. The employees filed paperwork to begin collecting their pension with the intention of continuing to work in the same job. State law allows the retire-rehire practice, but the city found that the workers never asked their appointing authority to be rehired and therefore, they continued working at the same rate of pay and benefits without the required break in service. Most of the fired employees filed their pension paperwork in 2010 and 2011, however, the practice is believed to have begun years earlier.
Skotnicky said the settlement wasn’t what he wanted, but felt he had no other choice than to accept. He and several others wanted their jobs back.
“High-level city officials encouraged, advised, approved of and assisted with the (Ohio Public Employees Retirement System) application forms, knowing ...that none of us were retiring our employment with the city,” Skotnicky told council during public speaks Monday.
Skotnicky said the pension application letters were prepared by the auditor’s office with the knowledge of the city law department and civil service office. He criticized Deputy Auditor Gary Young, Law Director Joseph Martuccio and Civil Service Administrator Samuel Sliman, among others, for their role in the practice. He said they should “suffer the consequences of their actions, not us.”
“They filled out paperwork, they made up paperwork and they told us they would help our families if we did this and then turned around and fired us,” said an angry Skotnicky, raising his voice. “Shame on you, Mr. Mayor. Shame on you.”
Mayor William J. Healy II said following the meeting that he was limited on what he could say since another group of former employees have a lawsuit pending in front of a visiting judge.
Page 2 of 2 - “As I have said before, there’s a lot of blame to go around,” Healy said.
Only one worker refused to accept the offer, which will cost the city $119,000. The situation will not be held against the employees if they decide to apply for a job with the city.
Assistant Law Director Kristen Bates Aylward told council that the settlement was reached over days of mediation with the union.
“It’s a very difficult situation, but as I had expressed to you before it’s a business decision,” she said. “We are going to be expending these dollars one way or another, whether it be in arbitration or in this manner. This ...cuts off your risk. If you do it like this, we don’t have a risk of losing in arbitration; We don’t have a risk of further dollars being expended.”
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Canton City Council for April 15
ACTION Voted 8-3 to allow Mayor William J. Healy II to give a raise larger than 3 percent to Finance Director Joseph DiRuzza. Healy plans to give DiRuzza a 14.5 percent raise, or about $11,601, bringing his salary from $68,399 to $80,000. DiRuzza was hired at a time when council required that all new department heads earn the same wage as their predecessor. That rule has been lifted, however, the city only allows raises of 3 percent every six months.
Healy asked council to lift the cap to retain DiRuzza, who was offered the same job with Portage County commissioners for $80,000. Healy argued that he could hire someone off the street for $80,000, but could not match the offer for DiRuzza under the rules.
Councilmembers Frank Morris, D-9, Edmond Mack, D-8, and Cirelli, D-at-large, voted no.
OTHER BUSINESS Council also approved by an 11-0 vote a $12,000 annual wage increase for anyone holding the job of both safety and service director. Service Director Warren Price will become acting safety director effective April 19, when current Safety Director Thomas Ream retires. Councilman Greg Hawk, D-1, was absent due to illness.