Last week, The County Record brought you one of the most talked about articles we’ve run in a long time: the issue of whether it’s right or wrong to retire from a government job for 30 days, then return to the same position at full pay.
As we reported last week, the matter came up for discussion following the Mar. 2 County Commission meeting when board members voted 3-2 to allow County Administrator and Emergency Operations Director Sonny O’Bryan to retire for 30 days, then return to his $80,000 position at full pay.
Since that article ran, we’ve learned that O’Bryan isn’t the only county employee who has taken advantage of this loophole in the state retirement law. Clerk of Court Ruth Attaway says longtime Library Director Rita Maupin and County Road Superintendent Bill Atkins also retired and returned to their positions at full pay.
The Florida retirement plan known as DROP - which stands for Deferred Retirement Option Program - was created to provide an incentive for those employees making higher salaries to retire and bring in new blood at starting pay, saving taxpayer dollars. Once a government employee enters DROP, their retirement benefits are deposited into a trust account and earn 6.5% annual interest compounded monthly.
Despite these benefits, many around the state have been accused of abusing the DROP program by reaping the rewards when their retirement date rolls around, then returning to the same job they retired from with a big paycheck. This abuse led legislators to change the law. Come July 1, government employees will be required to wait six months instead of the current 30 days before going back on the job. The idea behind it is most agencies won’t be able to hold their position open for that long so it won’t be too easy to return to their old job.
Over in Palm Beach County, the Board of County Commissioners decided to make it even tougher in their community to abuse this loophole. They voted back in February to create a policy requiring all executive positions be advertised before they are filled. In addition, several Palm Beach county offices banned the practice of allowing a retired employee to return to their same job.
While researching this story, The County Record learned of some startling cases of “double dipping” across the state. According to the St. Petersburg Times, Miami Dade Community College President Eduardo J. Padron retired in 2006, collected $893, 286 in lump sum benefits, and began receiving $14,631 a month in retirement pay. His annual salary of $328,860 continued. Supreme Court Justice Harry Anstead retired at $7596 per month and continued receiving his $161,083 salary in 2006-07. The case that sent Dade County officials changing their policy was when Airport Director Bruce Pelly retired for 30 days, took a lump sum of $304,000 retirement payout, then returned to his $197,000 a year job.
Editor’s Note: To correct an error last week - Sonny O’Bryan has brought in $5 to $20 million in grants per year for the last decade.