Commission dropped ball

Published 9:52 am Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Plenty of people turn a blind eye to an employment practice colloquially termed “double dipping.”

Basically, double dipping is when a public employee retires, begins to draw his or her retirement pension and is then rehired into the same position by the organization or agency. Often times, the employee is hired at the same pay rate, but some are rehired at a reduced rate.

Those opposed to double dipping see it as an employee collecting two paychecks on the public’s dime while also preventing younger employees from being able to gain experience and contribute to the retirement system.

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Another problem with double dipping, specifically in the case of Lawrence County, is that county leaders take no measures to ensure the duties of the retired employee are taken over until that employee is officially rehired after a mandatory two-month waiting period.

Earlier this month, the county auditor’s office refused to pay gas card bills for the dog warden because the office says he used them during his unemployed period.

On Jan. 26, dog warden Bill Click retired from his job at the animal shelter and was rehired on April 11.

Click said he wasn’t using the gas cards for personal use, but rather using them to gas up county vehicles while “going back and forth doing payroll or euthanasia.” He also said he has since paid that portion of the bill.

The auditor’s office contends the dog warden is in violation of OPERS rules by working, even on a volunteer basis, before his reemployment began and paying the outstanding bill would open the county up to unfavorable audit findings by the state.

Both the auditor’s office and the dog warden have been put in impossible situations.

The dog warden should not have had access to county vehicles or credit cards during the time he was unemployed with the county. By law, if he wanted to collect his retirement in full, he must be unemployed for 60 days. At the same time, should he have ignored the necessary job duties, including payroll, a dog warden performs on a monthly basis since it seems no interim warden was appointed?

On the other side, the auditor’s office cannot condone irresponsible spending, but it also cannot ignore the operating needs of a county department. At what point do those gas cards get paid and the dog shelter returns to business as usual?

This situation could have been easily prevented if the county commissioners knew that for 60 days, they would need an interim dog warden and appointed someone to take on those duties. Double dipping is more than just a retire/rehire situation. It is fraught with legal issues that just can’t be ignored.

Maybe this will be a lesson for county leaders to be aware of what their employees’ responsibilities are and to not assume the work will continue after someone retires.