The Covington City Council made a smart move last week when it voted to back off a hastily conceived plan to change city policy on pensions as they relate to retirees who come back to work for the Covington government.
For years the policy has stated that the pension must be “suspended” for any retiree who returns to work for the city, thus eliminating any concerns over double dipping by twice-hired employees. Then out of nowhere earlier this month the council voted to abandon that policy, thus allowing any returning to workers to continue drawing their pensions and a city paycheck at the same time.
Last week’s action reversed the earlier vote, putting the original policy back into effect, but the issue is not yet resolved and additional action may yet be taken.
Though not publicly sated, the cause for the attempted change is pretty obvious to anyone who monitors. A former city manager drawing a city pension is contemplating a run for an elected position within the city; without a change in the policy, he would have to forsake his pension to take a job that pays a minimal salary.
Politics aside, however, there are many issues that need to be considered before such a sweeping change is made:
Pension plans are complex entities; any proposed change demands careful scrutiny and discussion, with expert input from those who best understand how the plan in question. Policies related to how a pension plan works shouldn’t be changed willy-nilly each time the political wind blows from a different direction.
Encouraging more retirees to return to the city payroll is not automatically a good thing. If former employees apply to return to work because they are allowed to continue their pensions and draw a paycheck, the city may find itself in a difficult position from an HR standpoint. Hiring the pensioners prevents the flow of “new blood” that every workforce needs, and restricts the advent of new ideas and different ways of doing things. But refusing to hire retirees may open the city to age discrimination complaints, as they almost certainly would be the most qualified candidates.
Having the same pension rules apply to council members and workers employed by the city may not make sense. Council members are not hired to do a job; they are elected to positions that are not intended to be full-time jobs and do not pay a livable wage. But again, that’s an issue that demands intelligent debate and discussion rather than voting off-the-cuff.
The idea of anyone “double-dipping” from any position in the public sector is generally frowned upon by the general public and the electorate. The council members would do well to remember the people they serve.
Perhaps most significant, however, is the fact that making sweeping policy decisions customized to help any one particular person, or a particular timeframe is almost never a good idea. We want our council to make decisions for the whole city and for its future as well as its present. If any of the council’s recent decisions were made for political reasons, rather than for the good of the city, they would do well to remember that good politics does not necessarily equate to good government.
With adequate study and appropriate analysis and debate, members of the city council may one day be able to put forth a compelling argument for the policy change they have, at this point, both approved and disapproved. Until that happens, the policy needs to remain as it stands.