News


OLMAN TO DRAFT BILL THAT WOULD END DOUBLE-DIPPING

By JIM PROVANCE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

COLUMBUS - A legal loophole that allows some elected officials to simultaneously draw a salary and public pension while still on the job should be closed, state Rep. Lynn Olman (R., Maumee) said yesterday.

Mr. Olman said he is drafting a bill to eliminate the loophole that permits officials who have just won re-election to briefly "retire," triggering the pension, only to be sworn into a new term in the same office.

The law, as it passed the Ohio General Assembly last year, requires the official to file a notice with the county elections board 90 days before the election indicating his intention to do so.

That’s the procedure followed by Lucas County Commissioner Sandy Isenberg, 62, who would have drawn an annual pension of $40,000 on top of the $76,000 salary she would be paid if re-elected. She changed her mind this week after a public uproar, saying she was wrong to seek a pension for a post she intended to draw a salary for.

"In a sense the provision inserted by the Senate worked because the voters did express their outrage," said Mr. Olman. "But I don’t think it’s necessary to continually dangle that carrot in front of the elected official," he said.

Probate Judge Jack Puffenberger, who is unopposed in November, also filed an intent to begin drawing a pension.

He has estimated that he will draw a pension of $70,000 a year from the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System on top of his $106,000 salary. He is 50 years old.

Following a spate of such retirements statewide in 2001 by several judges and other officials, the House passed a bill last year to close the loophole.

The Senate, however, slipped in a provision allowing the practice to continue as long as voters were put on notice it was about to happen. Public employees, including elected officials, pay into their pension systems along with taxpayer contributions.

Mr. Olman said he did not introduce the bill to deflect criticism over Ms. Isenberg’s claim that he had advised her to double-dip.

"I told her what the law said, that it’s legal," he said. "At the same time, I told her that, if it were me, I’d also weigh the political ramifications. Legality and the court of public opinion are two different things."

Jen Detwiler, spokeswoman for House Speaker Larry Householder (R., Glenford), said the speaker remains supportive of the bill as originally proposed by Rep. Jean Schmidt (R., Loveland) and passed by the House. He added, however, that he was not sure the situation in the Senate has changed.

The bill is unlikely to see action before the Nov. 5 election and may have to be re-introduced in the new legislative session in January, according to Mr. Olman.

Senate President Richard Finan (R., Evendale), whom Ms. Schmidt said had insisted on the 90-day notice language, cannot seek re-election because of term limits.

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