Safety Harbor fire Chief Jay Stout retired on Nov. 30, 2002, at age 54. But shhh, it was a big secret. In fact, as far as his bosses at the city were concerned, he didn't retire at all. That's why there were no parties to honor this respected city official, and no public announcements of his retirement. He just went away for about a month, and then showed up back at his desk, still the fire chief.
But there was one big difference. When he returned to work, Stout was not only collecting his regular salary of $76,482 a year, but he was also earning a state retirement pension, though he came to work every day.
As the current "retired-but-not-really" fire chief, Stout earns $99,798 a year from the city and collects $4,903 a month in retirement benefits from the state. He's been enjoying both income streams for seven years.
Stout worked the system to his advantage. And the system allowed it. Now he's found a way to do it again.
To cut personnel costs, the city of Safety Harbor recently offered an incentive package to city employees who were willing to retire early. Among the employees who volunteered to retire early in exchange for the incentives: Jay Stout.
Furthermore, because the city allowed Stout to accrue benefits and city years-of-service credits as if he never retired seven years ago, he qualified for a generous incentive package offered to those employees with eight years of service. He'll get six months' salary amounting to nearly $50,000, a year of health insurance coverage for himself and his wife, plus he'll collect the 8 percent of his gross salary that the city has been contributing to his 401(k) plan for the last seven years.
Unbelievably, Stout says he does not consider himself a "double dipper." But his case is an excellent illustration of why double dipping has raised the outrage meter among Floridians. Taxpayers expect to pay public servants like Stout a reasonable wage. Perhaps taxpayers also have no objection to reasonable pension benefits for retired public employees. But public backlash in the last year certainly indicates that the public is not okay with those retirees returning to their old jobs as if they never left, collecting the same salaries and benefits and holding the same job titles.
On Friday, the state Legislature passed a bill to close a loophole in state retirement law that had permitted public employees to return to their jobs after only a 30-day leave and collect both their salary and a pension. They would have to stay away at least six months.
If the governor signs the bill as expected, it will affect only those public employees who retire after July 1, 2010. But at least it will put a stop to the kind of easy legal maneuvering that employees have used to richly reward themselves for their years of "public service."