Former Pinellas County Sheriff Everett Rice, who hopes to take back his old job by unseating Sheriff Bob Gualtieri in this year's election, announced this week he will donate his annual six-figure pension to charity if elected to office.
The move is intended to quiet complaints that Rice would be "double-dipping" if he collected his $107,000 pension, earned during his previous stint as the county's top lawman, on top of the $158,000 sheriff's salary. But it's already evoking skepticism among critics.
They point out that Rice's decision wouldn't actually save taxpayers money, but merely divert funds to his preferred charity, the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches, a network of residential programs for at-risk young people. The entirety of the donation would also be tax-deductible.
Rice defended his announcement Wednesday.
"I campaigned from one end of this county to the other. I keep hearing it," Rice said. "When some people hear that a public servant is going to be collecting a pension and a salary, it's striking a chord with them. It makes them mad."
He added, "And I don't like being called a double-dipper."
State Sen. Mike Fasano, a New Port Richey Republican who has crusaded against double-dipping, said a more practical approach to the problem would be for Rice to forgo his salary if elected sheriff. Fasano said he still commends Rice for the proposal to donate his pension.
"Even though he's still double-dipping, he's giving part of that double-dipping to a good charitable organization," Fasano said.
Said Gualtieri: "I don't think it means squat."
He said his fellow Republican and principal opponent in the race hasn't been similarly contrite about holding on to a one-time cash payment of $344,000 he collected when he left office in 2004.
Rice collected the money through the state's Deferred Retirement Option Program, otherwise known as DROP, which is intended to encourage older workers to retire and make room for others to advance.
"To me this is an empty afterthought, playing a game with something he knows people are critical of," Gualtieri said.
Rice called Gualtieri's challenge over the DROP payout "ridiculous," saying it was a legitimate payment from a retirement fund into which he had contributed.
Peter Jamison can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157.