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Published: Thursday, 6/3/2010

Double-dipping

TOLEDO City Councilman Joe McNamara has taken a stand against public employees who collect a retirement pension and a salary check at the same time. But he'll be standing on one leg if he fails to make a distinction between different sorts of double-dippers.

Mr. McNamara proposed to his colleagues on City Council this week that they ask voters in November whether double-dipping - a situation in which a worker collects a pension while still working in a government job - should be prohibited. But he missed the bull's eye by not recognizing that not all double-dippers are created equal.

The worst offenders are elected officials who announce their retirement but then are re-elected - often unopposed - so they can continue collecting their regular paycheck. Lucas County Judges Jack Puffenberger and James Bates fall into that category, along with county Sheriff James Telb.

Although we might prefer that Toledo Mayor Mike Bell and state Rep. Edna Brown defer their government pensions for now, they don't fall into this category. Mayor Bell is a retired firefighter and fire chief, while Ms. Brown was a 32-year employee of the City of Toledo.

In any event, a city ordinance can't stop elected officials from taking two checks. State lawmakers, especially in the Republican-controlled Senate, have shown little inclination to end the practice.

Only somewhat less offensive are public workers who retire, then are rehired for the same position. That's how the loophole was created in 2000. Ohio was losing too many veteran teachers, who would retire after 30 years, begin collecting their pension, then move to another state to teach. At least in the case of teachers, there was a shortage that had to be addressed. Unfortunately, the change benefited all public employees and elected officials.

The least onerous are those people who spend their career in public service, retire, then are hired for a different job. Prohibiting their hiring would get rid of some local sycophants, but also would prevent bringing in talented government workers from elsewhere in Ohio.

Ideally, double-dipping should be banned altogether. As the late Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Moyer said, it leaves the perception that double-dippers "are being paid for their retirement when they're not really retired." It's unfair to taxpayers who made at least half the pension payments. It's also bad for citizen morale - especially now, when people should be happy to have even one paycheck. And it prevents other people from getting jobs.

But a blanket prohibition that exempts elected officials would throw out the good apples with the bad, leave the most rotten fruit untouched, and prevent any new apples from being brought in from outside.

Mr. McNamara's proposal needs work before it's sent to voters.



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