Tuesday, January 21, 2003

County sweetens administrator's contract

Deal doubles Krings' severance pay

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Hamilton County commissioners quietly rewrote their top administrator's contract in late December, giving David Krings job security that makes it twice as expensive for future boards to fire him.

Mr. Krings' new contract - tucked in between paperwork to approve the $2.19 billion county budget and requests to attend seminars - gives him a host of job protections, even though no one has publicly threatened his employment.

Some key new provisions include:

• A guarantee of three months' notice that he's being terminated and 26 months' severance pay, for a total of $434,120, plus 20 months' health benefits. Severance pay and benefits will each rise by a month for every year he remains on the job. The previous contract gave Mr. Krings a year each of pay and health coverage.

• The right to consider himself fired - and thus collect the severance package - if a commissioner even suggests that Mr. Krings should resign. The previous contract said he could consider himself fired if there was a "formal suggestion" of the board that he resign.

• Removal of a clause in Mr. Krings' earlier contract that allowed him to be fired without severance for poor performance.

Commissioners John Dowlin, Todd Portune and Tom Neyer approved the new contract Dec. 30. That was the date of the last commission meeting before Phil Heimlich took office to succeed Mr. Neyer. It was the first time the contract was rewritten in Mr. Krings' decade as county administrator.

"We can't afford a golden parachute at taxpayer expense, and that's what this is," Mr. Heimlich said Monday, adding that no one in the county administration told him about the deal. "This contract removes every trace of accountability. It ties my hands, and it ties the public's hands."

Mr. Dowlin, the commission president, said Mr. Krings' contract was to reward a job well done.

"I'm hearing that at least one county commissioner wants to fire (Mr. Krings)," Mr. Dowlin said. "I'm not willing to fire him. I think he's doing a great job. I think the very fact that the county's budget is in better shape than most in the state is a credit to him."

Mr. Heimlich denied he has ever talked about firing Mr. Krings.

The contract appears to be unbreakable, Mr. Heimlich said, but he will look for a way out.

Mr. Krings, asked whether he feared being forced out, said: "I think anybody in this kind of job always has that concern. ... I think the commissioners wanted something where I would feel comfortable staying here for some time, and I am, and I do intend to stay. They're aware that from time to time I do get recruited for different positions."

Mr. Krings' new contract gives him 3 percent raise, to $179,636 a year. The commissioners also agreed to begin paying Mr. Krings' share of his retirement contribution to the Public Employees Retirement System - more than $15,000 this year.

His salary is higher than that of county administrators in Cuyahoga and Franklin, Ohio's other top urban counties. Cuyahoga Administrator David Reines makes $137,700 and Franklin Administrator Mark Gibson makes $146,000. Both have been on the job less than two years.

County Auditor Dusty Rhodes, a Democrat, lamented the Hamilton commissioners' timing. "This sends absolutely the wrong message," Mr. Rhodes said. "It is inconsistent and hypocritical because they're telling everybody that they need to cut costs. It's not right."

E-mail candrews@enquirer.com

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