Almanac

Viewpoint - January 23, 2013

Editorial: City needs to halt double dipping

When will retirement really mean retirement?

Menlo Park city officials apparently believed they couldn't get along without personnel director Glen Kramer after he retired in 2010, so they hired him back as interim director for a year, and then again as a contract employee, a gig that lasted until January 2013.

It was a classic case of double-dipping, giving Mr. Kramer a total salary and pension of nearly $200,000 a year. Why wasn't someone trained to do Mr. Kramer's job before he retired? Certainly the city manager and his staff knew about his upcoming retirement well before the date arrived. Instead of preparing, they held the door open as he rushed back to work.

Mr. Kramer's second stint started in February 2012 when the city hired him as a contract employee through Regional Government Services (RGS), for which he collected $70 an hour on top of a $10,877 monthly pension. He continued even after the city hired a new personnel director in July, and even after he appeared to exceed the 960 work hours per fiscal year cap imposed by state law on retired employees who return to work for public agencies.

CalPERS, the state retirement agency, decided to investigate his perennial employment and concluded it was illegal. The agency threatened to cut off Mr. Kramer's pension and have him pay back all benefits collected while under the RGS contract if he continued to work.

The city's human resources director Gina Donnelly told the Almanac that the hours worked for RGS don't count toward the allowable maximum. CalPERS expressed a different opinion in the letter it sent regarding Mr. Kramer's employment: "... your employment through RGS is under the common law control of the city. Therefore, your post retirement employment is subject to the restrictions in the retirement law."

The sweetheart deal Mr. Kramer found in Menlo Park sends a message that top city officials will bend over backwards so retiring managers can nearly double their salary by working as contractors at what is essentially their old job. Such favorable treatment is rarely available for the rank and file.

CalPERS also turned down the city's request to bend the 960-hour limit for interim Police Chief Lee Violett, who is filling in until Menlo Park hires a permanent replacement.

Menlo Park needs to plan for transitioning employees well before they head out the door. We suspect most retirees are more than happy to share their plans with top city staff. Mr. Kramer was a longtime employee who appeared to be doing good work right up until his final day on the job. With a little foresight on the city's part, he could have made better use of his last weeks as personnel director to train a successor. It's not rocket science; other companies do it all the time.

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