TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - An official with Gov. Rick Scott's administration who had been given three years to repay the state more than $21,000 is no longer on the job.
Dean Kowalchyk, the general counsel for the Department of Elder Affairs, abruptly resigned earlier this week. His resignation came less than a week after The Associated Press reported that he was paid for unused vacation late last year when it appeared the Scott administration planned to replace him.
But Kowalchyk never left his job, and it wasn't until July that he started repaying the state. He made his first payment just days before he received a $6,500 raise that brought his annual salary to $98,500.
In a resignation letter written Wednesday, Kowalchyk called his time as general counsel one of the "most professionally and personally fulfilling experiences of my life" but said it was best that he pursue other opportunities. He said he hoped to keep working with seniors or with the state in some other capacity.
A spokeswoman for the agency refused to answer questions on Kowalchyk's sudden resignation, saying she could not discuss personnel matters. Kowalchyk did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Kowalchyk was the lead attorney for the agency that helps Florida's senior citizens and has been criticized for its handling of the program that monitors nursing homes.
Kowalchyk was hired as general counsel while former Gov. Charlie Crist was in office. Last November, the outgoing Crist administration asked that all top agency officials submit letters of resignation - the usual procedure when a governor is leaving office so that the new administration can hire its own staff. In the weeks that followed many were told by Scott's transition advisers that they needed to leave their jobs by the time Scott took office in January.
But Scott's transition team then asked several top officials to stay on the job for at least two to three months as it became evident that some people sought out by Scott were turning down job offers.
Kowalchyk was told Dec. 17 that his resignation had been accepted. He decided to step down Dec. 27 and this triggered administrative tasks related to his departure. He was then given a check for his unused vacation.
Senior employees throughout state government are allowed to get paid up to 12 weeks of unused vacation when they leave.
But Kowalchyk wound up remaining on the job, and it wasn't until July that he worked out a repayment schedule that had him repay the money - without interest - over a three-year period.
In a written response to questions from the AP, Kolwalchyk earlier this month said he could not repay the full amount right away because he was responsible for roughly $6,000 that was deducted for taxes. He also said he used some of the money to pay bills and prepare to open a law office.
Kowalchyk got a pay raise Aug. 1. Agency spokeswoman Ashley Marshall said Secretary Charles Corley gave Kowalchyk a 7 percent raise in order to place his salary in line with others who work as lead attorneys at other social service agencies in state government. This raise was given even though rank-and-file state workers have not had an across-the-board pay raise in five years.
Marshall said Friday that Kowalchyk's resignation does not completely remove his obligation to repay the state, but that it will be settled against his final paycheck.
The Department of Elder Affairs has been criticized over a decision by the Scott administration to fire the state's long-term care ombudsman. A federal investigative report released in September contended the state was violating the U.S. Older Americans Act by curtailing the independence of the ombudsman, who advocates for nursing home residents.
Both Kowalchyk and Corley were grilled in October by a state Senate panel over their handling of the program.
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