When the Indian Wells Valley Airport District board of directors met for a special meeting Thursday afternoon, there was an important question to answer — how will the district pay out vacation and sick leave?

The issue presented itself at a recent committee meeting, which determined that the board’s policy regarding vacation and sick leave, first approved in 2001 in its administrative code, needs to be reviewed and/or revised. This was an issue that was previously brought to the board last August after an audit.

Forcing the issue is assistant manager Nicole Hale’s coming departure and the need to pay out her accrued paid time off balance. That also forced the board to look at general manager Scott Seymour’s accruals and work toward leveling those out.

The five-member board — all of whom were present — sat with legal counsel Scott Nave, who joined by telephone, and deliberated for an hour, with the idea being to digest the current admin code in place that left the answer to that question rather vague.

“We as a board — and I’ll take the heat for the last 3 1/2 years — didn’t pay attention to it,” said board president Paul Valovich. “So, I’ll take responsibility for that. However, it goes back to 2001, so most of the folks in here [the board room] are part of this issue.”

The district’s policy regarding vacation hours says that if an employee has worked for the district for one year or more, he or she will get a leading vacation. Upon dismissal, he or she will get a payment for the vacation hours earned up to 320 hours (a maximum of 160 hours per year).

When it comes to sick pay, the language in the code states that when an employee retires or dies, one-half of the accumulated sick pay is paid out. Any other termination would mean a full payout of sick hours.

“In my mind, the word ‘termination’ is ambiguous,” Nave said. “Does that mean that the district terminates the employment or does that mean any termination of employment, meaning if the employee quits … or resigns, then that constitutes a termination as well. If that is the interpretation of the section, then employees are entitled to sick pay when they leave the district’s employment.”

In total, Seymour had a balance of 569 hours of vacation time, Hale had 347. Seymour’s sick leave balance is 787 hours (the admin code limits it to 720), Hale had 591.

“With the small number of employees we have had over the years, we have not had the subject of cashing out vacation and sick leave,” Valovich said.

The question for the board was whether it has a “moral obligation” to pay beyond the maximum amount of hours, “since we weren’t minding the store,” Valovich said.

“We’re going to make it right,” said treasurer Jim Paris.

Director Russ Bates, with the admin code in front of him, said that the policy should be followed as it is written.

“We have a policy,” said director Russ Bates. “I don’t think it’s amiss, I don’t think there was a mistake or anything. We have a policy in place, we should adhere to it.”

Ultimately, the decision was made to pay Hale’s full vacation hours based on her salary (a unanimous vote), pay Seymour’s vacation balance to 160 hours at his current salary, to be negotiated with him (a unanimous vote).

When it comes to sick leave, the board (in a 4-1 vote), approved Hale’s full payout at her current salary; Seymour’s payout of any sick hours over 90 days accrued was approved in a 4-1 vote.

Other business

John Smith from Tartaglia Engineering was present to deliver an update on the Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting garage construction. He cited a need for a geotechnical investigation on the site.

“We have historically identified the design to building code minimums, with regards to geotech and with the latest code of California,” Smith said, “[but] there’s a seismic component that doesn’t allow us to do that.” A laboratory came out and grabbed samples; the report will be incorporated into the revised plan.

The Kern County Fire Department determined that there will be no need to install a sprinkler system in the garage; however, nearby hydrants should be noted in the plans, Smith said.

Other items to be adjusted in the plans for the building are: access for the blind, ADA compliance and waterproofing. As the list grew, directors began to wonder about the cost.

“This can’t be an open-ended project,” Valovich said.

“At this point, I don’t think you’re there yet,” Smith responded.

General manager’s report

During his report portion of the meeting, Seymour predicted a “pretty quiet” May, a couple of goings-on in June — a Canadian parachute team and a Lockheed project. He then thanked Hale and gave her a parting gift.

The board closed the meeting with a unanimous vote to officially recognize Hale for her 11 years of service to the district.