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Council renews police chief's contract, expresses concerns

October 03, 2012 - "This is a sweetheart deal."

That's how Oxford Village Councilman Elgin Nichols described Police Chief Mike Neymanowski's contract. He wasn't being derogatory, he was simply making an observation.

"I think he's very well deserving of it, but it is a sweetheart deal in every aspect," Nichols said.

Council last week voted 4-1 to renew the chief's employment contract for another three years – until Sept. 12, 2015 – with an annual base salary of $57,907.

Because he chooses to opt-out of the village's health insurance plan, Neymanowski also receives a lump sum cash payment in lieu of the benefit. This year, it amounted to $6,868. Next year, he'll receive $4,859.

Despite the nearly unanimous approval, some officials took issue with a few of the benefits outlined in the agreement such as Neymanowski's severance package. Should he be terminated, he would receive a lump sum severance payment equal to 12 weeks worth of wages.

"I've always had a problem with severance pay," said village President Tom Benner. "If he's discharged, why does he deserve three months pay? . . . I don't feel that's correct. I don't think that's fair."

"I agree with that, I'm just wondering why this wasn't brought up when we were dealing with other contracts (concerning individual employees and unions)?" said Councilman Tony Albensi, who cast the lone vote against the contract renewal.

According to the village's Personnel Policies and Procedures Manual, "At its sole discretion, the village may authorize severance pay for any employee. Any such severance pay shall have the prior approval of the village council."

Neymanowski isn't the only one who gets severance. Clerk Susan Nassar accrues one month's severance pay for every year she's employed, up to three months. She only receives it if she's terminated "without cause."

Manager Joe Young accrues three days of severance pay, including benefits and health coverage, for every month he's employed beginning with his July 1, 2004 start date.

DDA Director Madonna Van Fossen has no severance clause in her contract.

"I've brought (the severance issue) up at different times and I always get shot down," Benner said.

"With all due respect, I don't remember you bringing it up. I remember it being discussed," Albensi said. "I, too, have an issue with (severance pay)."

"It's nothing against you, Chief," Benner explained. "It's just something that sticks in my craw. If someone is terminated or quits, I don't think they're entitled to severance pay."

Neymanowski only gets severance pay if he's fired, not if he resigns or retires.

Albensi also took issue with the contract continuing to provide the chief with an unmarked police car, which he is allowed to use for personal business.

It states, "Given the emergency nature of police business and the on-call nature of the chief of police to participate in police business at all times of the day, the employee will be provided a police automobile for use. The employee himself may use the police vehicle for any and all legal and reasonable purposes personal or professional."

"Personal time – I don't think it should be for that because it's the village's responsibility (for the) upkeep of this automobile," Albensi said. "I think I've always had an issue with an unmarked vehicle used for not only police business, but personal business."

"I don't take advantage of it," Neymanowski noted. "The gas that I put in is my own personal gas. I don't charge any gas to the taxpayers unless I'm going to a training session out of town."

The chief noted that while the village pays for his vehicle's oil changes, he's paid for some "major repairs" out of his own pocket.

Albensi indicated that he would like to see the automobile section removed from the contract, but no action was taken.

"I'm perfectly okay with the contract as it is," said Councilwoman Maureen Helmuth. "We've brought this up before. He does use the vehicle to go to Lansing (on police business). If we're not going to let him use that vehicle, what's he going to take? His personal vehicle? That's going to cost us how much in mileage (reimbursement)?"

"I don't necessarily have a problem with using the vehicle for professional use," Albensi said. "It's the personal use that I kind of have an issue with and I've brought it up before."

Councilman Dave Bailey noted the chief is "on-call 24-7," so that's an argument in favor of giving him a vehicle.

Under the contract, the chief also receives a variety of paid days off each year including 10 holidays, 20 vacation days, three personal leave days and 12 general leave days.

Neymanowski can bank up to 24 general leave days, which amounts to 192 hours. Should he leave the village's employ, the chief would be paid for any remaining general leave days at 100 percent of his pro-rata hourly rate, which is $27.84. If he accumulates more than 192 hours of general leave, Neymanowski is entitled to be paid 50 percent for up to 96 hours at the end of each year.

The chief also receives three to five days of bereavement leave for the death of an immediate family member.

Despite its criticism of certain aspects of his contract, council made it very clear that its comments were no reflection on the chief himself or the job he's doing.

"I want to make if perfectly clear (that) my no vote has nothing to do with the chief's commitment to the village or his level of service," Albensi said.

"I'm the newest resident in this community and in a short period of time, you have earned my respect," Nichols said. "You're doing a great job."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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