Jeff Pelline: Would you like one dip or maybe two?
On summer fishing trips, one of our family’s favorite stops is Walker on Highway 395. We stop at Walker Burger, a roadside stand, and order double-dip ice cream cones.
But you don’t have to drive 3 1/2 hours to Walker for a double dip.
They’re right here in our county. In this case, I’m referring to the pay practice of “double dipping” – receiving two incomes from the government, usually by holding down a government job and drawing a pension.
The latest example of a double-dipping public worker is Nevada County Undersheriff John Trauner, who retired last December but will continue to work for another full year – drawing two incomes. (See our story on page 1A).
Trauner, the second-in-command, needs to stay on past retirement because his mentoring skills will help educate a relatively young administrative staff, according to County Sheriff Keith Royal. Trauner’s replacement is expected to come from the ranks of captain or lieutenant, most likely toward year-end.
Others who are drawing dual government incomes include retired DA Mike Ferguson, Nevada City Police Chief Lou Trovato, some Nevada Irrigation District officials and many others. To be sure, they have provided admirable leadership in our county. They also are civic-minded. Trovato, for example, is a fixture at the Victorian Christmas, playing in a brass band.
Nevada County is not alone when it comes to double dippers. The practice is rampant throughout California and the rest of the country – and it is drawing increased attention.
As the Morning Journal, a community paper in Ohio, puts it: “Paying someone twice for one job doesn’t sound like a wise use of public funds.”
Many defenders counter that some double-dipping scenarios save money, but it depends on the details.
Double dipping can be short sighted. “Critics say the system imposes a ‘gray ceiling’ on civil service, blocking promotions because retirees don’t actually leave the payroll,” according to the Honolulu Advertiser.
In many cases, the pension benefits are excessive. In San Diego, a typical firefighter making $75,000 a year can retire at age 55 with a pension of $99,767 – or 133 percent of his or her highest-year salary – according to the San Diego Union Tribune.
Some government agencies are seeking reform. In Gilroy, the police chief and assistant chief retired earlier this winter and returned to work as part-timers, putting them in a position to collect more than $240,000 each in pension payments and hourly wages, according to the Gilroy Dispatch.
“There is a business-as-usual take on this thing throughout the state,” Gilroy’s mayor told the paper.
A failure to disclose the arrangements also is raising concern in many communities.
In Nevada County, as elsewhere, we need to take a closer look at the practice. We need succession plans that are timed to actual retirements – just like corporate America. We need to create more job opportunities, not fewer ones. Nothing breaks down the perception of a “good old boys/girls” network more than bringing in “new blood.” Fresh ideas also help bring about change. Happiness is two kinds of ice cream – not just double-dip cones.
Jeff Pelline is the editor of The Union. His column appears on Saturdays. Contact him at 477-4235, email@example.com, or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.
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