The Little Rock City Board agenda for its last meeting of the year Tuesday includes, as expected, a vote on an ordinance that will significantly sweeten retiring Mayor Mark Stodola’s retirement and apply to future mayors as well. The agenda, however, carries no mention of resolution of his claim for an estimated $173,000 in pay for unused vacation and leave time.
Rather than be paid according to benefits of a private plan to which he and the city contributed together about 30 percent of his $160,000 pay for 12 years, Stodola would under a proposed ordinance now get half pay ($80,000) for life, plus an annual COLA equivalent to others in the city’s defined benefit retirement plan, plus a spousal survivor’s benefit paid by the mayor. The defined benefit plan was instituted four years ago. Stodola didn’t attempt to join it then. Normally you have to be in that plan 25 years to achieve the maximum benefit of half pay. Stodola will be in it about two weeks. The city will recoup its contributions, 17 percent of pay a year, toward defraying the added cost of improving Stodola’s benefit (reducing the cost to the city from almost $900,000 to about $500,000 to be paid out at $60,000 a year over 10 years.) But Stodola will be able to keep his own contributions, apparently near $200,000, for rollover into another plan. Stodola, 69, also is entitled to benefits under the state public employee system plan for his years as a prosecuting attorney.
City Manager Bruce Moore, who makes $189,000 and is covered by the pension plan, has said it makes sense to put the mayor now and in the future on an equal footing and that using the existing city pension plan is the most efficient way to do it. He and City Attorney Tom Carpenter also contend the state must pay Stodola half pay in any case because of a state statute on mayoral retirement. It has been noted that statute doesn’t specifically apply to city manager cities such as Little Rock.
City directors also raised questions last week about the Arkansas Times’ reporting that Stodola believes he is entitled to payment for unused vacation time because he is to be treated the same as the city manager, whose contract allows for accrued leave. It’s all but unheard of for elected officials in Arkansas to accrue pay for unused time off. City directors, for example, have no such provision.
Stodola contends he’s due more than a year’s worth (estimated recently by the city manager’s office at $173,000)( because he so rarely took time off. Moore’s own contract was revised last week to protect time he’d accrued as a deputy city manager and also to provide him with six months of pay should he leave for reasons other than termination for cause. One city director last week said that a payment for Stodola commensurate with what’s allowed for others seemed fair. Several said the issue needed to be resolved, but it isn’t specifically listed on the board agenda.
The new mayoral administration and city board would do well to reconsider what’s provided for the mayor in pay and benefits. Stripping leave time accrual would be a good place to start. If the pay and retirement benefit and city-paid insurance
The City Board will also consider the $269 million 2019 budget, which includes a bonus of up to $500 for non-uniform employees and renewal of the $300,000 annual corporate welfare payment to the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.