Baltimore County Pension Windfall Should be Investigated

7:30 AM EST, December 20, 2011

Thank you for exposing the “sweetheart pension deal” that Baltimore County officials Kevin Kamenetz, Stephen G. Samuel Moxely, Vincent J. Gardina and Arnold Jablon, are receiving. For these county officials to draw or bank retirement benefits while continuing to work for the county is wrong. Not only are the retirement benefits they receive paid at a higher percentage than those of most county employees, the salaries that these officials are making (in addition to their sweetheart retirement benefits) are 3-to-5 times more than what most county employees and teachers make.

To add insult to injury, the provision allowing them to “bank” their pension benefits while still working was quietly added at the 11th hour to a bill that significantly reduced pension benefits for many county employees and reduced or altogether eliminated cost-of-living adjustments for retirees. At the time that this bill was adopted, Messrs. Kamenetz, Moxley, and Gardina — and County Administrative Officer Fred Homan who granted them this special benefit — all took the position that a reduction in benefits for other employees and retirees was necessary to preserve the financial integrity of the retirement system. Perhaps if these officials had revealed their desire to allow a select few to “double dip” the night that they quietly slipped this provision in for a vote (without any reading of its text or debate), the rest of the county council might not have found it necessary to take COLAs from retirees on fixed incomes or reduce future retirement benefits for the lowest paid county employees.

The legality of this “double dipping” provision should be questioned by the new members of the County Council, as the choice of who gets it is left up to the whim of the county administrative officer. Defined benefit plans, such as the county’s retirement plan, are supposed to be just that — defined with clear standards as to who is entitled to receive benefits and the amount that they are to receive. State law specifies that it is the job of the council to set those standards, not a political appointee who decides to bestow this benefit on his friends or the person who appointed him.

For Mr. Homan to grant this benefit to Mr. Kamenetz after he took office is even more questionable, as Section 405 of the county charter prohibits any change in the county executive’s compensation during his term in office. And, according to a document generated by the county, Mr. Jablon is not “banking” his $111,000 annual pension, but “simultaneously collecting [his] pension and new county salary” of $180,000 annually. Even the “sweetheart” provision which allows for the banking of pensions while working does not appear to allow for that. Perhaps some other law does, but I am unaware of it. These legal questions need to be addressed, and to ensure independence, a private counsel should be hired by the council to do so.

It is ironic that in the same month that this “double dipping” issue was reported by The Sun, Mr. Kamenetz proposed ethics reforms “to make sure that people have confidence in the decisions that county government makes” and stated that he is working hard just “paying [the county’s] bills each month.” Here’s an idea, let’s save money and really engender “confidence in the decisions that county government makes” by repealing this sweetheart provision and ensuring that “double dipping” by these and any other county officials comes to an end.

Virginia W. Barnhart, Towson

The writer served as Baltimore County Attorney from 1995 to 2001.

Copyright © 2011, The Baltimore Sun

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