Leader Blues

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

EDITORIAL >> Those sham retirements

Several Lonoke County officials are red-faced over those sham retirements uncovered last week involving Assessor Jerry Adams and Treasurer Karol DePriest, who have been drawing two checks since last summer — their regular pay and a pension.

But the fallout has also hurt other county officials who probably knew about the scheme.

Their pseudo retirements were met with derision at a meeting of Lonoke County Republicans in Cabot Monday night. But Adams and DePriest say they’ve done nothing wrong and will run for re-election. But if they had felt clean about their temporary stealth retirements, why the secrecy?

We can see the campaign slogans in a Democratic primary or general election now: “Retire retirees for real. Turn out the double dippers. Vote for (fill in the blank).”

Now, it’s easy to say that other officials have pulled off the same deception — secretly drawing a retirement check when the public wasn’t even told that they had temporarily “retired.” It’s still wrong, no matter how many officials have tried to dupe the public.

They didn’t “retire” any more than they walked on the moon. They just happened to have found a loophole in the law that allows retired public employees to return to work when their talents and expertise are needed. The law, of course, was meant to encourage retired teachers to fill vacancies, allowing them to keep their pension checks even if they went back to work.

That sounds reasonable, but then the school superintendents and the politicians saw an opening, and they couldn’t wait for that retirement check. Former Cabot Superintendent Frank Holman called it quits for a few weeks last year when he was superintendent in northwest Arkansas. But at least he told his board he was vacating his position, although the job was never advertised and the public was never told. Media coverage finally uncovered the scheme.

Adams and DePriest supposedly informed a small group of insiders about their intentions to grab an extra paycheck, but county residents and even the quorum court were kept in the dark. When we checked at the courthouse last summer, we were told nobody had retired and come back to work. That was supposed to happen elsewhere.

Other county officials are grudgingly conceding that they may have heard about the scheme after all. It should never have happened, even if the Arkansas Association of Counties was quietly encouraging officials to go for it, hoping the public would never find out.

The Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System, which administers the fund for retirees, is looking into the controversy and is promising to clean house. Let’s hope the reaction against this public deception will end double dipping among elected officials and school superintendents.

Sen. Bobby Glover, D-Carlisle, is among the critics who want to stop the practice. He and the state Legislative Audit Committee have begun an investigation. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has been clear on this issue: He says elected officials cannot collect retirement pay without vacating their offices. It’s common sense, which is often lacking in the public arena.