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Published: Friday, 6/20/2003

Plan calls for officials to provide more notice

BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - Of the roughly 450 decisions that six legislators had to make yesterday on the state budget, one showed how power in the legislature works.

In less than one minute, state Rep. Jim Hoops (R., Napoleon) added an amendment that would continue to allow elected officials to draw pensions and salaries for the same job: a practice that critics refer to as “double-dipping.”

Mr. Hoops' amendment, which he had introduced as a bill a month ago, would give voters more advance notice.

A 2001 law requires elected officials who want to use the “double-dip loophole” to file notice with the county board of elections 90 days before the general election.

Mr. Hoops' amendment moves that notice up to at least 90 days before the primary vote.

“It's a choice that elected officials will have and it will be up to the public whether that choice they made was something that they liked. Now, the way the law is the only way you can run, if you haven't filed, is by a write-in,'' Mr. Hoops said.

Former Lucas County commissioner Sandy Isenberg had intended to collect her retirement as well as her salary if re-elected last year, but she changed her mind after a public outcry. She lost to Republican Maggie Thurber.

Judge Jack Puffenberger of Lucas County Common Pleas Court was unopposed last year when he filed the paperwork to briefly “retire” and collect his pension and government salary.

Tim Kuhlman, a Republican attorney, jumped into the race as a write-in candidate a month later, after the deadline to have his name placed on the ballot. Judge Puffenberger won, and on April 1 he began collecting a pension of about $50,000 a year through the Ohio Public Retirement System on top of his $107,600 annual salary.

Mr. Hoops, among six House and Senate members tapped to serve on the conference committee to resolve differences in the two versions of the state budget, notified a Blade reporter at about 3 a.m. yesterday that he planned to insert the amendment into the massive budget bill.

State Rep. Lynn Olman (R., Maumee) is sponsoring a bill that would prevent elected officials from collecting a pension from the state's retirement system and a salary at the same time.

Mr. Olman said he wasn't surprised at Mr. Hoops' action.

“Jim and I agree on one thing and that is the status quo should not continue, as it relates to elected officials' double-dipping. We differ in our opinion of how to proceed. He feels they have the right to make bad decisions as long as the citizens know. And as a member of the conference committee, he has the ability to make that happen.”

Despite Mr. Hoops' amendment, Mr. Olman said he planned to support the budget deal that Gov. Bob Taft reached with legislative leaders. “You have to weigh the 3,000 pages and balance the entire work product,'' he said.



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