Planner retires 3 days into 2015, adds $6K in vacation

Planning director Rick Hanley looking over Lowes' site plan for the former Suffolk Life building on Route 58 in 2009. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)
Planning director Rick Hanley looking over Lowes’ site plan for the former Suffolk Life building on Route 58 in 2009. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

After the Town Board abolished the position of planning director in December, the only man who ever held the position has decided to retire three days into 2015, allowing him to take over $6,000 in unused vacation time for the year.

The 2015 budget adopted in November included no funding for the planning director position, for which Rick Hanley had a 2014 salary of $118,843.

The Town Board sought to eliminate a number of higher paid employees by offering a retirement incentive for 2015, which 11 employees did take. 

Mr. Hanley, however, was not one of them.

Under civil service “bump and retreat” rules, Mr. Hanley could choose to stay on and take the next planner position available, a position held by Karen Gluth, who made $86,029 in 2014. He did so for three days, allowing him to cash out on 25 vacation days this year.

Councilman Jim Wooten said the unused vacation payout will add up to between $6,300 and $6,400. He said while the cutting of Mr. Hanley’s position wasn’t personal, he found the former planning director’s decision “not right.”

“It bothers me, as a department head, that someone running that department would think that for an extra 25 days of vacation time, he wouldn’t leave until he got those days,” Mr. Wooten said. “It’s not right. But then again, it’s done on every level: municipal, school, even corporate. It’s done all the time.  If you’re credited your time on January 1, nobody wants to leave before that.”

Mr. Wooten said that Mr. Hanley isn’t the first person in recent memory to leave shortly after the first of the year; he said former town attorney Dawn Thomas left in mid-January, allowing her to cash out on much unused vacation time. He added that as a town police employee himself, he was credited for unused vacation time, though he left the force in July.

Supervisor Sean Walter confirmed that Mr. Hanley will take Ms. Gluth’s position at the lower salary for two days in 2015 and then retire, which enables him to cash in unused sick and vacation time for 2015.

Mr. Wooten speculated that while the town previously made Mr. Hanley’s planning director position eligible only through Dec. 31, 2014, the town might retroactively extend that through Jan. 3 so Ms. Gluth wouldn’t have to go through the re-hiring process, or interrupt the civil service time she has accrued.

With the elimination of Mr. Hanley’s position, Ms. Gluth would remain as the town’s only full-time planner in addition to Jeff Murphree, who serves as the town’s planning and building administrator.

Mr. Hanley’s total payout — for 2015 and previous years of built up vacation and sick time — will amount to about $63,000, according to Mr. Walter.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said this money is not included in the 2015 budget. She said the Town Board has been making numerous budget transfers to pay for retirement payouts to other employees, and she has voted against them.

Asked if the town has money for Mr. Hanley’s retirement payout, Mr. Walter responded,  “It’s all in there somewhere.”

“I’ve been blessed. I’ve had a wonderful career,” Mr. Hanley said on Friday.

He was first hired by then-Supervisor Allen Smith as an intern in the summer of 1977 and worked for the town while he attended graduate school at Stony Brook University that year, he said.

The town didn’t have a planning department until 1984, and Mr. Hanley was its first planning director, and to this day its only planning director, since the Town Board has now abolished the position.

Prior to that, the town Planning Board had a consulting firm, McLean Associates, advise them on planning applications, Mr. Hanley said.

He feels one of the highlights of his years as planning director was the creation of a Natural Resources Protection District in 1987 which protected the Pine Barrens area around the former Grumman property.

It was adopted several years before the state adopted the Pine Barrens protection plan in the early 1990s, which covered parts of Riverhead, Brookhaven and Southampton towns.

“The Town of Riverhead was so advanced with environmental protection that we actually passed an ordinance for the protection of those lands prior to the state ordinance or anything else,” Mr. Hanley said. “So, really, that was one of my crowning achievements.”

The 2003 master plan update and the creation of the planning department were the highlights of his career, Mr. Hanley said.

Ms. Giglio and Councilman John Dunleavy voted against a resolution formally abolishing the planning director post in December.

“I think he has a lot of institutional knowledge that’s important to have,” Ms. Giglio said of Mr. Hanley on Friday.

She and Mr. Dunleavy also believe the planning department will be shorthanded, since Mr. Hanley’s position and that of environmental planner Joe Hall, who retired, were abolished in 2015.

“We’ve got a lot on the backburner now,” Ms. Giglio said, adding that there is a backlog of 16 site plans in the planning department.

That issue came up at the Dec. 18 Planning Board meeting as well, when Planning Board member Ed Densieski questioned if the department has enough staffing.

“”What’s gonna happen to the planning department?” Mr. Densieski asked, saying that Mr. Murphree had made comments at the meeting about how the staff would have difficulty keeping up to pace on applications.

“I could see this turning ugly really quick,” Mr. Densieski said.

Mr. Walter said in an interview that the town has budgeted $30,000 to hire a part-time planner in 2015. That person will work with Ms. Gluth and Mr. Murphree, who also oversees the building department, he said.

Mr. Wooten said none of that money will likely go to Mr. Hanley, who had remained a possibility due to his institutional knowledge.

“At one point we could have brought him back,” he said. “Not anymore.”

With Joseph Pinciaro

Correction: This story initially misidentified the last name of former town attorney Dawn Thomas.