Niagara Gazette — “At the current hourly compensation rate of approximately $60, the executive director’s accumulated vacation leave balance has a value of over $100,000,” the audit report notes. “If the board had ensured the executive director complied with the policy and approved the carryover of only the maximum allowed of five days annually, with her 29 years of service, the most she could have accumulated would be 145 days, rather than the 239 day reported balance.”
Auditors also found that in 2011 Cowart cashed out more days than allowed by the terms of her contract, receiving payment for 30 days in May 2011 ($12,574) and for 15 days in October 2011 ($6,287).
When asked about the payments, auditors said Cowart provided them with a copy of a board resolution from October 2011 that authorized authority staff to sell up to 15 days of vacation leave. Authority officials subsequently provided a board resolution dated May 2011 that approved the sale of six weeks, or 30 days, of leave specifically for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, the audit notes.
“Due to the manner in which vacation leave days have been accrued and these transactions were handled — one resolution not specifically listing the executive director and the other resolution being provided at the exit discussion — we question the legitimacy of payments for unused leave that exceed the relevant provisions in her employment contract,” the audit report reads.
The comptroller’s office recommended the board more “clearly define” Cowart’s employment contract and all compensation and benefits to be received, as well as take steps to ensure she is adhering to authority policies and control procedures in the future. Auditors also encouraged authority officials to ensure that all payments to Cowart are periodically reviewed and audited moving forward.
Cowart indicated that the authority would follow through on those directives.
“We intend to use the state comptroller’s examination as it was intended, as a recommendation and a resource,” Cowart said.