Saturday, January 18, 2003

Judge: Former director can keep $170K buyout

By Cindi Andrews
and Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LEBANON - A Warren County Common Pleas judge ruled Friday that Lebanon's former electric department director is entitled to keep a $170,000 early retirement buyout, rejecting the city's effort to reclaim the money through a lawsuit.

Lebanon City Council said it unknowingly allocated $486,000 in December 1999 to give Bob Newton and two other top city officials buyouts through an electric department early retirement program. The city asked Mr. Newton and the Public Employees Retirement System to return his buyout, but both refused on the grounds that Mr. Newton was a member of the electric department.

"Well, good," Mr. Newton said Friday upon hearing the news. "It was a very costly process for me."

Besides the civil action, the buyout controversy also produced criminal charges against Mr. Newton, former City Auditor Debbie Biggs, former City Attorney Bill Duning and former City Manager James Patrick. Charges against Mr. Newton and Mr. Patrick were dropped, however, after Mrs. Biggs and Mr. Duning - the other two buyout recipients - were acquitted.

Lebanon's lawsuit contended the city never adopted the buyout program. In his six-page decision, Judge P. Daniel Fedders noted that at least four employees, including City Councilman James Hause, were permitted to retire through the program.

Friday's decision ends the last pending legal action over the buyouts. Lebanon settled Mrs. Biggs' and her husband's lawsuits last month. The city paid $25,857 and its insurance company an additional $15,000, mainly to buy the six months' time Mrs. Biggs needed to be eligible for retirement.

City Attorney Mark Yurick said Friday that he needs to meet with council before deciding whether to appeal.

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