Frank White should nix this sweet­heart county pen­sion deal

The Kansas City Star - - Opinion -

When­ever a gov­ern­ing body is in a red-hot hurry to pass con­tro­ver­sial leg­is­la­tion, there’s ev­ery rea­son to be sus­pi­cious.

Case in point: the sweet­heart deal that Jack­son County leg­is­la­tors just ap­proved for newly elected county leg­is­la­tor Ron Fin­ley.

Un­der an or­di­nance ap­proved Mon­day, Fin­ley can now “dou­ble dip” while serv­ing in the leg­is­la­ture. That is, Fin­ley can col­lect his $35,000 an­nual leg­isla­tive salary and con­tinue re­ceiv­ing his $480 monthly county pen­sion from his pre­vi­ous ser­vice as a county leg­is­la­tor.

That prac­tice was not al­lowed un­til the leg­is­la­ture acted this week.

Crit­ics say that Fin­ley is ac­tu­ally tripledip­ping in that his monthly pen­sion will rise as he adds to his years of ser­vice to the county.

That’s on top of the $1,122 per month Fin­ley also re­ceives from Kansas City for his two terms on the City Coun­cil, in­clud­ing a $200 health sub­sidy.

This ar­range­ment ap­par­ently was cooked up by Den­nis Waits, who’s about to re­tire from the leg­is­la­ture after a 32year ca­reer. At a hear­ing, he said the change was a mat­ter of fair­ness.

Fin­ley, after all, earned his county pen­sion and has been re­ceiv­ing it. Be­sides, an­other re­tir­ing leg­is­la­tor, Garry Baker, was blocked from re­ceiv­ing his county pen­sion for the past three years, and that ir­ri­tated Waits.

Waits tried to push through a sim­i­lar change two years ago for Baker, but fell short after a Star re­porter ex­posed the ar­range­ment.

Now, though, Fin­ley will get his triple dip, as will ev­ery other county em­ployee who is at least 65 and re­tired only to be re­hired later. Of­fi­cials said they weren’t sure what this might cost the pen­sion fund.

For his part, Fin­ley said he wasn’t even aware of the or­di­nance, and his name never came up Mon­day. Then again, he surely un­der­stood be­fore he ran that he would lose his county pen­sion if he was elected. But he ran any­way.

This change wound up hap­pen­ing fast — so fast, in fact, that leg­is­la­tors lacked doc­u­men­ta­tion ex­plain­ing what they were do­ing.

Three votes were taken Mon­day. The county’s Fi­nance and Au­dit Com­mit­tee, which in­cludes Waits as chair and Baker, who also is re­tir­ing, rec­om­mended the mea­sure for pas­sage.

Later the same day, the leg­is­la­ture voted twice on the or­di­nance, ap­prov­ing it. That rates as a rush job.

County records show that the or­di­nance first ap­peared be­fore the pub­lic on Nov. 27, when it showed up on the leg­is­la­ture’s agenda as a pro­posal. But the agenda didn’t ex­plain what this mat­ter was all about, only that it re­lated to the pen­sion plan.

The county’s em­ployee pen­sion board learned about the idea and unan­i­mously op­posed it.

“I know of no other pub­lic plan that al­lows for what the or­di­nance es­sen­tially al­lows, triple dip­ping as it is called in the pub­lic sec­tor,” wrote pen­sion board mem­ber Claire Scov­ille. “I have con­cern when any plan suc­cumbs to spe­cial in­ter­est.”

“Jack­son County has a his­tory of things like this be­ing mis­used,” leg­is­la­tor Crys­tal Wil­liams said at one point. “The tim­ing is weird,” she said at an­other. “It doesn’t look good.”

She’s spot on. But this is the way Jack­son County does busi­ness and the rea­son why so many cit­i­zens re­main skep­ti­cal.

The or­di­nance was rushed be­cause this was prob­a­bly the last meet­ing for Waits and Baker and oth­ers who backed the idea. They un­doubt­edly knew that new leg­is­la­tors might not look so kindly on it.

County Ex­ec­u­tive Frank White could veto this tur­key. We hope he does.

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