City Manager Jarel LaPan Hill is set to be paid more than $35,000 for unused vacation hours when she exits her post in January after about two years on the job.
According to an email from city Human Resources Director Bernadette Salazar, LaPan Hill had 420 hours — or about 10½ weeks — of unused vacation time as of Thursday that will have to be paid out when she leaves.
If the vacation time is paid at her hourly rate of $84 — the highest hourly wage in Santa Fe government — and she takes no more vacation time before leaving, LaPan Hill stands to depart with $35,280, before taxes, or about one-fifth of her annual salary.
The potential payout is more than the lowest-paid city employee will make in a year, following approval of a plan to set the minimum city worker wage at $15 an hour, or $31,000 annually.
LaPan Hill said Friday that her payout is just “part of the way these things work.”
“It is sort of standard procedure,” LaPan Hill said. “All employees have their vacation leave paid out. In this position, my position as city manager, you are on call all the time, and there is not a lot of opportunity to take leave.”
LaPan Hill joined the city in March 2018 as chief of staff, a position created in 2016 under former City Manager Brian Snyder, at a salary of $88,000 a year after working on Mayor Alan Webber’s election campaign.
Over a year later, LaPan Hill was named interim city manager, replacing outgoing City Manager Erik Litzenberg, ultimately earning the job permanently at a $155,000-a-year salary.
She was bumped to $175,000 a year in 2020, with a provision in her contract that her salary would be reviewed at the beginning of each fiscal year.
Last month, LaPan Hill announced that she was resigning Jan. 12, saying she wanted to spend more time with her two young children after the tumultuous time of the pandemic. She was named the permanent city manager a few months before the pandemic hit.
She is slated to be replaced by John Blair, who most recently worked as deputy superintendent of the state’s Regulation and Licensing Department.
A vote to confirm the pick is scheduled for the Jan. 12 City Council meeting.
According to an annual leave chart provided by LaPan Hill, exempt employees — those who are not paid hourly — can carry over any unused annual leave to the next calendar year, while union and other city employees are capped each year depending on the number of years employed by the city.
LaPan Hill said there are about 50 other exempt city employees who are not subject to carryover caps.
“When an employee separates from the City, they are paid out their accumulated annual leave hours at the current rate of pay,” Salazar wrote in an email. “This has been the policy for several years, likely decades, to include annual leave payouts for previous City Managers, Directors, the City Clerk, who were promoted during their tenure.”
Salazar in an email said the city encourages its employees to take vacations as needed.
LaPan Hill said the city has a policy that allows nonexempt employees to carry over hours year to year, but it has to be approved by an administrator.
Webber said it’s not uncommon for city officials to receive such payouts when they leave government positions but added he was willing to defer to the city’s human resources team on whether the policy needs to be revised.
He pointed to former city clerk Yolanda Vigil, who received nearly $93,000 for unused vacation time when she resigned in 2020.
Vigil had worked for the city since 1980 and became city clerk in 1994.
At the time of her resignation, she was earning an annual salary of $105,505.60.
“I think — along with just how much the job requires of people — they don’t take time off; they feel compelled to stay and do the work and not utilize vacation time,” Webber said.
Webber said while the city doesn’t pay “top dollar” for employees, it balances it out with attractive benefits packages.
According to city personnel, exempt employees who have worked for the city for at least a year and no more than five years accrue vacation hours at 8.85 percent of hours worked per pay period.
Regular employees earn 5.77 percent of hours worked.
LaPan Hill does not stand to receive a standard “severance package” because her employment was not terminated, per her contract, but she will collect a $5,000 retention bonus for staying on the job until the completion of Webber’s first term at the start of the year.
She denied rumors she’d spent time amid the pandemic working remotely outside of city limits, a rumor that circulated on social media.
LaPan Hill, only the third woman to hold the position, is Webber’s third city manager during his first term; Brian Snyder had the job prior to Webber being elected.
Webber later asked Snyder to resign after it came to light that Snyder violated a city policy covering incentive pay. Snyder had approved pay raises that would have cost the city close to $400,000 without City Council approval.
Litzenberg took the position after Snyder and resigned in 2019.