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Double Dipping

No, it is not the new ice cream shoppe at University Circle or the infamous Seinfeld bit. Double dipping refers to “people who collect a public pension as well as a paycheck.” Double dipping is not a new phenomena — from 2008-2010, three of Mayor Jackson’s top adminstrators were rehired to jobs paying over $100,000 the day after each person retired. Despite various rumblings that the Ohio legislature has been contemplating changing the double dipping process legislatively, the process remains legal under Ohio law. Advocates of double dipping note that, when a retiree is rehired for the same position, that employee’s specialized knowledge is retained, while the retirement benefits are paid by the state pension plan. The city or state hiring the retiree saves on job search and training costs, and (sometimes) may pay the “newly hired” employee less than she had been earning. Supporters say that the “double dippers” are merely following the rules, obtaining benefits that they are entitled to receive, and that opponents of the process just may be jealous of people who can retire in their fifties and get rehired for a six-figure job. The Ohio Public Employment Retirement System (OPERS) says that double dippers’ retirement funds are “pre-funded from monies that include their lifetime contribution,” and that taxpayers do not have make up for a “shortfall” in established pension benefits. Further, despite the media attention paid to highly-paid double dippers, only five percent of public retirees get re-hired in public jobs, and, of that 5%, 2/3 earn less than $20,000 per year. Opponents of double dipping argue that it prevents younger people from getting jobs.

Nonetheless, double dipping remains controversial. Recently, Cleveland City Council voted 13-3 to reappoint Ken Johnson, who had retired mid-term to lock in a cost-of-living adjustment for his pension that he would have lost January 1, 2013. City Council honored the long-standing tradition of letting an out-going councilperson recommend his replacement, while admitting that recommending oneself was unusual. One Councilwoman said that double dipping is legal and ethical, and “Anybody who didn’t take advantage of it would be a fool.” Ken Johnson said, “This is not about money. It’s about finishing the work I started when voters elected me in 1980.” (He could have retired 17 years ago.)

One of the three dissenting votes was that of Councilman Michael Polensick, who double-dipped the “right way,” by retiring in 2009, then winning the subsequent popular vote in the November election for the same Council position he had held for thirty years. Another councilman cut to the main point– making sure that Johnson would lose his seniority and reserved parking space.

Roldo Bartimole, who wrote Point of View about Cleveland for over three decades, knows more than a bit about Council tradition.

During an interview, political analysts reiterated that Council follows tradition, double dipping is legal, and, while chuckling, that the Ohio legislature is not likely to change anything soon, because the Speaker of the Ohio House and others in the General Assembly are also double dippers.