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State ruling stands on LI village agency's payout

New York State's highest court has declined to hear an appeal of an order directing a Hempstead Village development agency to pay its former commissioner almost $1 million for accrued work hours, vacation, and personal and sick days.

The Feb. 18 decision by the State Court of Appeals leaves intact a 2007 Nassau State Supreme Court judgment against the village's Community Development Agency.

The CDA recently paid $977,290 to the former commissioner, Glen Spiritis, to satisfy the lower court judgment. The judgment - covering a period from 1990 to 2004 - was for $828,388 but grew as interest and legal fees accumulated.

The payment covered unused vacation, personal and sick days from the time he worked as a full-time commissioner, and work hours for which Spiritis had not been paid as part-time project manager under a consulting agreement.

Spiritis worked as CDA commissioner from 1990 to January 2004; from Feb. 1, 2004, until Sept. 20, 2004, he worked part-time for the agency as project manager.

He sued the CDA in 2004, soon after he left his CDA part-time job as project manager. The terms of the part-time project manager's job were spelled out in a January 2004 employment agreement.

Spiritis said his agreements with the agency covered both his full-time and part-time work and entitled him to the back pay. The CDA disagreed.

"There was an agreement by the CDA to pay Mr. Spiritis, which they tried to avoid and the [state Supreme] court found they had the obligation to pay him," said Carle Place attorney Steven Cohn, who represented Spiritis on appeal. "It was that straightforward a case."

Part of the recent payment to Spiritis covered the period in which he worked part-time after he resigned as commissioner in January 2004 to become Long Beach city manager. When he resigned, the CDA asked him to continue working under the part-time agreement as a project manager.

After the CDA began questioning Spiritis' part-time work, the agency delayed paying him and he received no pay for the 295 hours he worked as project manager between Feb. 1, 2004, and Sept. 20, 2004.

After the case was decided, the pay Spiritis received for the 295 hours came to $81,125, his full pay for that period.

While the part-time employment agreement was entitled a consulting agreement, Spiritis insisted, and the courts agreed, that he was a CDA employee, entitled to having money he earned as such credited toward his state pension.

The order stated that Spiritis was entitled to "compensatory time relating both to his employment with CDA, as well as when he functioned as a consultant to CDA, respectively from November 5, 1990 through February 1, 2004 (as employee) and February 1, 2004 through September 20, 2004 (as consultant)."

Melville attorney Richard Hamburger, who represented the CDA on appeal, called the appeals court decision "unfortunate" and said rulings in several cases have stated a municipality can't retroactively pay an employee for accrued, unused vacation and sick days. However, Spiritis had argued that his employment agreements with the village made provisions for such pay.

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