The vacation policy that allowed BART's former top executive to stay on the payroll and become the agency's highest-paid employee last year -- even though she was retired -- is worth examining for potential abuses, BART's top administrator said Wednesday.
But General Manager Grace Crunican made no promises for immediate reforms, saying she didn't "know how widespread" of a problem BART had with senior managers banking months of vacation hours.
In an interview with this newspaper's editorial board, Crunican said she can understand public outrage over how her predecessor Dorothy Dugger's 3,100 hours of unused vacation was paid out over 19 months after she resigned, but Crunican said that allowing top executives to bank such time "might be a nice reward" for working hard and being innovative.
As first reported Sunday in this newspaper, Dugger sweetened her path to retirement by dragging out her unused vacation instead of taking a lump-sum payout when she resigned in May 2011. Staying on the payroll allowed Dugger to continue racking up benefits, including health coverage, pension contributions, management bonuses and even two months of additional vacation.
At $330,000, Dugger was BART's top paid employee in 2012, burning down time she stockpiled over a 20-year career, the last four at the agency's helm.
Dugger's pay even topped the $316,000 Crunican took home as the agency's leader. Crunican joined BART two years ago after Dugger was forced out and said she has not banked any unused vacation.
"I understand why (people) think it is wrong," Crunican said. "The issue is a fair one to raise."
Two of BART's elected directors, James Fang of San Francisco and Robert Raburn of Oakland, have called for reforms in the wake of the Dugger revelations.
Crunican said it is unlikely that she would recommend any policy changes on the matter to BART's elected board members until ongoing union negotiations are over. The contracts of BART's rank-and-file workers expire at the end of the month, and management this week called for mediation, saying negotiations have stalled.
Jean Gomez, president of Local 3393 of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, was not immediately available Wednesday to respond to Crunican's comments on leave policies, her spokeswoman said.
But Cruncian seemed to downplay the issue, saying that she sometimes rejects her lieutenants' vacation requests because they are too busy, but they deserve to convert the unused time to cash later.
"I don't have any reward mechanism for managers," Crunican said. Without some executive level perks, "it is hard to recruit people."