by Max Brantley
It took Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Keet the better part of the day to make some hay of the Democrat-Gazette article this morning that 26 state employees had retired and then been rehired since legislative and retirement system actions to make such double-dipping harder to achieve. It's all Gov. Mike Beebe's fault, of course.
UPDATE: Beebe campaign spokeswoman Ann Hughes responds:
Governor Beebe supported the action to address this issue, lengthening the minimum retirement period. But Jim Keet may not be aware of that because he may have still been living in Florida at the time. Governor Beebe has already said we need to evaluate the impact of that action to see what more may need to be done, taking into account the importance of institutional knowledge on a case-by-case basis. It is surprising however that Jim Keet would refer to ethics since Mr. Keet has been in hot water over his own tax problems and for blaming it all on his wife.
Keet's statement is on the jump. I don't think he fully understands the situation. He says, for example, that the six-month retirement requirement now in the law isn't enough. But the handful of double-dip cases listed in the paper today seem to fall under exceptions to the 2009 law that set the lengthier retirement period. The exceptions said employees who were already in deferred retirement option programs could go back on the regular payroll under the older, shorter retirement periods. None of them gamed the system. They followed the law. We'd reported previously about the one elected official taking advantage, the St. Francis County clerk, Bette Green, who left office after being elected to another term beginning in January, when she can resume regular pay along with her retirement. She appears to have met all legal requirements to relinquish the position.
State officials have defended the rehires and said open job application processes were held. I have my doubts in a few cases. But over time, as those on DROP programs work their way through the system, the six-month hiatus will apply to all employees and that should be a meaningful bar to most double-dipping. And once in a while, a retiree might want to go back to work and it might be in the state's interest to allow it. However, if you can have a job vacant for six months, you have to wonder if he state really needed the job in the first place. The legislature probably should fix it where an elected official who's retired must cease drawing retirement if elected again to the same office. That's the rule in place for judges, for example.
KEET NEWS RELEASE
The front page of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette today shows that double dipping in Arkansas continues to be a problem. The article states that since the new law that attempts to stop double dipping was passed in July of 2009, 26 state employees have found ways to continue the practice.
The double dipping referred to in the article occurs when a state employee retires, begins to draw retirement benefits from the state and then is rehired back to the original job. The practice allows the employee to collect retirement as well as salary.
Again we see Governor Mike Beebe being reactive instead of proactive in this situation. Republican nominee Jim Keet addressed this issue back in June when he unveiled his six point ethics reform proposal. The proposal was largely ignored by Beebe.
“Governor Beebe’s attitude toward government ethics was exhibited by his lack of a response to my ethics reform proposal,” said Keet. “This article again shows that ethics reform is needed in Arkansas to restore the taxpayer’s faith in government.”
The current law allows state employees to be rehired to the same position after six months of retirement. This practice is unfair to all the other former state employees who have used the state retirement system ethically.
Governor Beebe should take immediate action to make sure this questionable practice, that uses hard earned taxpayer dollars, is stopped immediately.