TALLAHASSEE — A year ago state lawmakers passed a law to ban "double dipping'' among public employees.
This week Senate President-to-be Mike Haridopolos announced the addition of veteran staffers who will be double dippers. Double dipping is where employees collect retirement checks while working full-time. All three of the new Senate employees will be earning six-figure salaries.
The three employees are:
• Terry Rhodes, a 30-year veteran of the Department of Agriculture, who will become a special assistant to the president and staff director of the Committee on Ethics and Elections at a salary of $150,000. She will also collect a state pension of $6,448 a month beginning in April and collected $404,657 in deferred compensation when she retired last April.
• Craig Meyer, a former deputy commissioner of agriculture with 26 years of experience in state government, was hired in June to run a new Senate budget office. Meyer was chief of staff for Senate President Bob Crawford 20 years ago. He's being paid $155,000 a year. He will also collect a $3,588 pension beginning in April and collected $10,688 in deferred compensation this past April.
• John B. Phelps, former House clerk who retired in 2005 and has been working in the Legislative Research Center and Museum, will become staff director of the Senate Rules Committee. He'll be paid $139,152, the same salary he has been making doing historical research. He collects a monthly pension of $6,260 and collected deferred compensation totaling $350,482 when he retired in 2005.
All three have earned state pensions, but Meyer and Rhodes will be unable to collect their monthly pensions until April. Both left their jobs at Agriculture and waited 30 days to return to the state payroll under an old law that was replaced July 1 with a law that would have required them to remain off the state payroll for six months.
David Bishop, spokesman for Haridopolos, said all three new Senate employees "bring a lot of institutional knowledge to the Senate.''
"We're glad to have them,'' Bishop said. "Your newspaper has been critical of us for letting veteran employees go. Now we are bringing on people with almost a century of experience. All of the rules have been followed and these people have great public knowledge.''
Haridopolos has been cleaning house in the Senate this year, tossing out 13 staffers and replacing them in what he has described as a cost-saving effort. He says he is saving more than $1 million in salaries with the changes, due in part to the fact that some new employees are performing two jobs.
Not everyone in the Senate is happy.
Sen. Mike Fasano, R-Port Richey, sponsor of the new law designed to curb double dipping, was critical of the decision to put them on the payroll.
"There are plenty of good, hard-working individuals out there who could sure use a job right now,'' Fasano said. "We have high unemployment and struggling families. It's hard to explain this to people like that."
But Fasano said it is the prerogative of the Senate president to move people around and do what's best for the Senate.
Haridopolos referred calls to Bishop.
Haridopolos has been criticized for taking a $79,000 a year job as a guest lecturer at the University of Florida's political science department in addition to a $30,000 legislative salary and $63,000 a year he earns as a consultant.