Some St. Petersburg employees benefit from double-dipping

ST. PETERSBURG — At least 26 city employees collect salaries while drawing a city pension.

The list includes high-ranking administrators, such as fire Chief James Large and Deputy Mayor Goliath Davis, who receive additional retirement benefits through their new positions.

Most of the double-dippers are not high earners. At least 15 are part-time employees. About 21 earn less than $50,000 a year.

But in tight budget times, as the city considers eliminating civilian fire and police positions to help cover a $5-million budget deficit, the double-dipping numbers don't sit well with some rank-and-file employees and union officials.

They question whether rehiring retired employees is fair and argue the double paychecks hurt the city's bottom line.

"You stifle a lot of opportunity for other people to move up," said Mark Deasaro, president of the Pinellas County Police Benevolent Association.

Officers regularly complain about a lack of advancement opportunities, Deasaro said. Competing against a retired senior officer for a promotion doesn't help matters, he said. At least 11 double-dippers are former police officers.

"As people go through the ranks, they would like to see more openings, not fewer," Deasaro said.

Large, the city's former assistant fire chief and fire marshal, earns $126,000 a year, plus an annual pension of $86,383.

Davis, the city's former police chief, earns $152,736 a year, plus his $68,317 annual pension.

Gary Cornwell, the city's human resources director, said it is legal to rehire retired employees.

"Most of the people who were brought back were brought back because they had a very specific skill," he said. "They were the best person for the job and we were going to have to pay someone to do it anyway."

The city will not contribute to a second pension for double-dippers, but if management employees open a 401(a) retirement plan — similar to a 401(k) but for public employees — the city will chip in up to 11 percent of their salary.

That means Large and Davis could eventually collect earnings from two retirement funds.

Mike Connors, internal services administrator, said the city saves money by hiring retired employees because the city no longer has to contribute to their pensions.

Double-dipping isn't unique to St. Petersburg.

The state spends more than $300-million on salaries for employees who have returned to the state payroll after "retiring.'' The list includes more than 200 elected officials and 7,700 regular employees.

In St. Petersburg, a handful of double-dippers are employees who took little to no time off before rejoining the city's payroll.

Davis, 57, retired from the Police Department on a Friday in 2001. The following Monday he began his new job as deputy mayor of Midtown economic development. Davis said he planned to retire, but Mayor Rick Baker talked him out of it.

Large, 53, announced his retirement in 2004. In 2006, he was promoted to fire chief after 32 years in the department. He never took any time off.

"I have a young family," said Large, who has three children under the age of 14. "I have to work forever."

Other double-dippers took a few years off before rejoining the city's workforce.

Police spokesman Bill Profitt was the assistant chief of police when he retired at the age of 45 after 27 years of service in 2001.

Profitt considered going into the private sector, but a back injury derailed his plans.

In 2003, he learned a position as police spokesman and community awareness manager had opened. Profitt said his inside knowledge of the Police Department helped him land the gig.

This year, Profitt will earn $81,351 on top of his $40,329 annual pension salary.

The city is a good employer, he said.

"To be honest, the economy is so uncertain I am just really grateful to have a job," he said.

Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.

Some St. Petersburg employees benefit from double-dipping 06/03/08 [Last modified: Thursday, June 5, 2008 5:01pm]

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