Monday, March 09, 2009
Mayor Halts 'Double Dipping'
By Dan McKay
Journal Staff Writer
Mayor Martin Chávez says he will no longer allow his employees to draw a retirement pension and city salary at the same time — a practice informally known as "double dipping."
Police officers and other public-safety jobs will be exempt from the policy.
The rehiring of employees already drawing a pension from the Public Employees Retirement Association has been common across the state since 2003, when the Legislature changed the rules. Since then, employees can "retire," sit out for 90 days, then return to their previous job, drawing not only a salary but their PERA pension.
Four of the mayor's top executives, plus his personal scheduler, have retired, then eventually returned to work.
Chávez said they will be ordered to give up their pensions if they want to continue working for the city beyond the end of his term, which expires in December. Police Chief Ray Schultz will be an exception because he works in public safety.
Chávez said he initially supported the new state rules easing the rehiring of retirees, because it would help bring back experienced police officers. But the practice has grown beyond that purpose.
"It's a policy gone awry," he said.
KRQE-TV reported on Friday that City Hall had been rehiring retirees — in some cases through a "temporary agency," apparently an attempt to skirt the 90-day rule. In other cases, employees worked as volunteers during the 90-day period.
Government agencies across the state have also been rehiring retirees. Chávez said he would urge them to end the practice, too.
"The practice is legal. The practice is ethical," he said Sunday in a news conference on Civic Plaza. "It was contemplated by the Legislature, (but) I think it needs to be redrawn."
The practice can prevent well-qualified employees from being able to move into higher positions because they remain filled by retirees, Chávez said.
The employee pensions are paid by PERA, not the city. According to the Legislative Council Service, employees contribute 7.4 percent of their salaries toward their pension and the city of Albuquerque contributes 16.6 percent under the general plan — there is a variety of plans, such as for public-safety employees. And according to the PERA handbook, once retirees are rehired their employers pay the full contribution.
Sunday wasn't the first time Chavez has taken aim at PERA retirees. He announced three years ago that he would generally curtail their rehiring, with exceptions for public safety or "mission-critical" jobs. His administration has maintained that his rehires since then have complied with that policy.
Here's a look at some of them:
John Castillo, director of municipal development, "retired" from his $116,000-a-year city job in January. He has worked for free since then but will be rehired when his 90 days are up. He draws a $69,000 annual pension. He will leave the city at the end of the term or stop drawing a pension, Chávez said.
Felicia Giron, the mayor's scheduler, has agreed to come out of retirement and stop drawing a pension, Chávez said. She will remain a city employee. Her salary and pension weren't immediately available.
Irene Garcia, the city's chief financial officer, will step down at the end of the mayor's term. She has a $125,000 salary and also draws a $73,000 annual pension.
Nick Bakas, the city's aviation director, will either leave at the end of the term or stop drawing his retirement pension, Chávez said. He is now getting a city salary of $105,000 a year and draws a $71,000 annual pension.
Chávez said the top executives couldn't be replaced immediately because his term ends in December, making the job less desirable. In some cases, the No. 2 person in the department isn't ready yet for the top job.
He pointed out that the City Council and other government agencies have hired PERA retirees, too. Chávez said he was aware of some retirees being rehired in the mayor's office but wasn't aware of how much it had happened in other areas of city government.
"I was really surprised," he said.
Chávez said that, although he disagrees with the state rules for retirement, the people who took advantage of them are "good people, they're honest people."
Chavez also said that "retirement ought to mean retirement."