CLEVELAND - On the same day that RTA's Board said it would draft tax hike proposals to put before voters in the fall, it also signed a deal with its outgoing CEO that calls for paying him more than a quarter of a million dollars as he leaves.
Board Chairman Dennis Clough, who is also the Mayor of Westlake, says the agreement benefits RTA because CEO Joe Calabrese will receive less as he departs under the new deal then he would have under his old agreement.
Last Tuesday, the Board also announced that Calabrese, who has headed the transit agency for eighteen years, would be leaving over a year sooner than previously planned.
The new Calabrese agreement says he is entitled to "2,049.5 hours of accrued and unused vacation" - including some from his time in the state of New York.
Public sector jobs often allow employees to carry unused vacation hours over year after year - a practice that is often not permitted in the private sector.
RTA agreed to value each of those hours of unused vacation at just over $133 per hour.
Do the math, and the resulting payout to Calabrese exceeds $270,000 - a figure that is not sitting well with the head of the transit union.
"That's a slap in the face to us," says William Nix, Sr., the union president.
With ridership down and state funding being cut, Nix worries that RTA is not going to be able to convince voters to pass a tax hike this fall.
If that happens, he says his membership will take a hit - and so will RTA's service.
"You're looking at a ten percent cut," he says. "You're looking at two to three hundred people who could be losing their jobs over this."
The news of the Calabrese payout comes after a series of questionable expenditures at RTA that started with an I-Team investigation back in March.
The I-Team revealed that RTA's own auditors questioned $1.8 million in prescription payments - including paying over $1.5 million for 103 containers of Flonase, the nasal spray, for an average cost of over $14,000 apiece.
RTA said it was the victim of a nationwide insurance scam.
But county prosecutors dropped the case without filing charges, and the U.S. Attorney's Office will neither confirm not deny if a federal investigation exists.
Two months later, RTA's Board announced that its longtime Board Chairman, George Dixon, got over $1 million dollars in health benefits that he wasn't entitled to receive.
And last week, the I-Team revealed that confidential documents showed a transit with RTA's para-transit system was more widespread than previously reported.
RTA said, in total, employees gave family and friends over 2,200 unauthorized rides over a twelve-year period, valued at over $120,000.
The RTA Board must decide what type of tax hike - either a sales tax hike or a property tax increase - to ask voters to approve by next Monday, in order for the issue to get before voters in November.