by Max Brantley
Saturday, I posted the state-compiled list of more than 300 state employees who've taken advantage of a statutory retirement deal since 2001. Under a 2001 law, state employees could retire for 30 days, begin drawing retirement checks and go back to work for the state in the same or another job. Mostly, the employees resumed the same jobs. Concerns about abuse of this benefit led the 2009 legislature to extend the retirement period to six months. Presumably, if a state employee holds an important job, that's a long enough period to give ample opportunity to find and hire a replacement.
So much for background. I was interested to note that Parole Board member Leroy Brownlee, whose service dates back to the Clinton years, had "retired" March 2, 2008 and then been "rehired" April 24, 2008. He made $88,457 in the job when he retired. He now makes $90,175. His retirement benefit isn't known -- the Public Employees Retirement System won't release benefits paid members.
Gov. Mike Beebe went along with this? Indeed he did. His spokesman, Matt DeCample, said Brownlee had come to the governor's office last year and said he'd like to avail himself of the retirement-rehire option other state employees were using. DeCample said Brownlee asked if the governor would like him to continue to serve should he retire. "We said yes," DeCample said. No paperwork was done when Brownlee went off payroll and came back on.That's not so unusual, As a matter of course, openings on state boards aren't posted. Appointments typically are announced only to new terms, though the Parole Board is one of those very coveted gubernatorial appointments because it includes a good paycheck. Brownlee's term expired this year and he was reappointed in February by Beebe to a seven-year term.
What benefit did the state accrue from allowing Brownlee to capture this extra retirement money while on the job? DeCample hesitated, then responded that the law allowed Brownlee to do what he had done.
DeCample added that the governor approved of the legislature's decision to extend the retirement period this year because the program had not always been used as intended.