by Max Brantley
We don't yet know how many county officials have engaged in the fake retirement funny business Rep. Allen Kerr (R-Little Rock) has unearthed, but I am beginning to believe it extends far beyond the three Garland County elected officials already nailed for "retiring" (by not taking a paycheck for three months) and staying in office without ever formally vacating it so that they could then capture retirement pay for their elected office and the elected job's pay at the same time.
That is, your county clerk may be serving as county clerk and drawing that paycheck plus his/her retirement pay for serving a number of years as county clerk. Ask them, please.
These elected public servants have been doing this without notifying the public, without vacating the office, without "terminating" employment, which Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has now said is required to receive retirement pay.
An honest public official would retire for real. The job would be declared vacant. It would be filled by appointment until the next election. If these officials want to double dip by running again, voter should know that a double-dip was part of the plan.
You may be sure county officials don't see it this way. A friend of one blog reader is a retired public official. He/she is not a double-dipper, but the rationale offered for his/her double-dipping colleagues for this apparently widespread practice is a lame pile of self-justifying hooey. They're saving money for us, see. They sure aren't very proud of it since they've kept it a big secret -- until now.
The scam is slick, however. Even though the rules now require six months of unemployment to draw public retirement pay, elected officials can quietly "retire" after they've been effectively re-elected in a May primary (if they have no general election opponent) and nobody is the wiser when they "go back to work" in January on a new term.
I think there'd be a lot less of this, however, if these double-dipping scoundrels had to announce what they were up to. I await all of them to write me who've done it and defend their decisions, by name.
UPDATE: Here's a county official who did the double-dip legally and transparently, the Pope County coroner. (He also did it safely after he knew he faced no opposition to re-election. And it's worth noting that much of his retirement credits came from work with Pope County EMS.) I think the legislature needs to extend the retirement time for elected public officials so the declaration has to be made before a primary election that is often tantamount to re-election.)
QUESTION: Did the officials who fake retired continue their public health insurance?
NOTE TO BLOG READER FROM RETIRED ELECTED COUNTY OFFICIAL
The reason some of the elected officials are doing this is two-fold. You need to understand that many have paid their retirement into the system and are entitled to have it, regardless of whether they maintain full employment, whether in their elected job or some other job.
By "retiring" during the middle of the second year of their term of office, and having already been elected to serve the next two year term which would begin on January 1 of the following year, they are actually saving the taxpayers money because the county no longer has to pay into the retirement system for them.
Regardless of whether they are the next official in office or not, the county would still have to pay the full salary to the next official, and in addition, would have to pay in the retirement for them, unless it is the same offical who "retired" the previous year before their term was up.
I know this is hard to understand, but it's just like drawing your full social security at full retirement age, and continuing to work and hold down a full-time job, which may "retirees" are doing, who are drawing their full complement of social security, just like I did before I retired last year. That's because I was eligible for full social security benefits well before I actually retired from my full-time job. I paid in all those years, and whether or not I'm working, I'm entitled to have the benefits. Do you consider that "double dipping"??
These elected officials have earned their retirement, and because they're not really ready to quit working, they're actually saving the counties money by "retiring" before the end of their second year of the term, and having been re-elected, take office again the 1st of the following January, and the county taxpayers actually save money because they don't have to pay into the retirement for these people; again, whereas if it were a new official (drawing that salary), they would be having to pay retirement into the APERS system for that "new" elected official.
It's sort of a "catch 22", but I think many people misunderstand it, including Kerr, and as long as you keep getting elected to office, you are entitled to the salary for that position. The only difference is, they're elected to the office (in May/November of the even year, say 2006) before they retire from it in the odd year (2007), and then having been elected in November of 2006, are taking office in January of 2008.
Hope you're not too confused by all this. I've tried to explain it several different ways. The general public does not understand it, and they think folks are rookey-dooing the taxpayers (which they're really saving them money), but then a lot of people don't think too highly of elected officials because of a few rotten eggs! I had a friend who wanted to do this and I told her to stay away from it because the news media would crucify her! And that's exactly what happened.
Let me know if I can further enlighten you.
NOTE FROM A SOUTH ARKANSAS JP
We had an official run last year and then retire for 3+ months before they came back January 1 of this year. I don't like it but it is the law. Our Quorum Court has a policy in place that the Justices of the Peace get notice when any county official applies for state retirement.
But if county officials 'retire' in place [without vacating the office] they commit a fraud on the state retirement system. If they do retire but continue to administer the office and use the official seal of the office that is fraud as well. All are punishable with visits to the Arkansas Department of Corrections.
The County has massive exposure from workers compensation. Any orders entered into by that former official are now suspect and actions in court proceedings (criminal, civil, equalization board, county court) could be challenged as lacking validity.