Schneider Says County Generous to a Fault : Bankruptcy: Letter tells former chief executive that he might be owed nearly $68,000 in unused sick pay. He doubts it, but would like $5,300 for unused vacations.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Former County Administrative Officer Ernie Schneider, fired following Orange County's bankruptcy, says he can't imagine why the county wants to pay him $67,694 in unused sick pay.

Schneider said Wednesday that he recently received a notice from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, informing him that he is one of thousands of people owed money by Orange County. The notice said that Schneider might be owed $67,694.95 in unused sick pay.

Schneider said the county owes him more than $5,300 in unused vacation pay--but not $67,694 in unused sick pay.

"I would take it," he said. "But I am not eligible for that money."

Schneider said he returned the notice unsigned. In the same envelope, he included a letter contending he was owed exactly $5,355.75 in unused vacation pay.

"I think I should get paid for the unused vacation," Schneider said. "I don't think that is unreasonable."

Schneider, a county employee for 24 years, was fired last February by then-county Chief Executive Officer William J. Popejoy, who criticized him for failing to exercise oversight of the county treasurer's office, which had managed the ill-fated investment pool.

Meanwhile, county Auditor-Controller Steve E. Lewis, who has clung to office despite the financial debacle, asked the bankruptcy court to pay him $25,382.24 for unused sick pay that he accumulated as a county employee before he took his elected post.

Lewis is seeking payment under an obscure county law--passed in 1971--that entitles elected officials to payment for their unused sick time accumulated while they were regular county employees. The law has been scrapped, but it still applies to anyone hired before 1977. Lewis was hired in 1965.

Lewis did not return a phone call to his office Wednesday.

Even though he was hired under the old system, Schneider is evidently not entitled to payment for his unused sick pay, according to county officials. The reason: Employees have to retire or die to become eligible for the money. And Schneider, at age 49, is too young to qualify for retirement.

"None of this sick pay applies to him," said Jan Walden, the county's director of human resources.

Lewis, she said, might qualify at some later date--after he leaves office.

Walden said that many people received notices informing them they might be owed money, but that doesn't mean they will be paid anything.

"The lawyers just wanted to make sure they didn't miss anyone," Walden said.

Schneider said he just wants to be left alone.

"I have had the worst year of my life," he said.

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