Opinion

County Overpaying Retiree A ‘Tale Simply Beyond Belief’

County Overpaying Retiree A ‘Tale Simply Beyond Belief’

 

The diminishing respect many taxpayers exhibit toward both public employees and public agencies is well explained by a recent story in U-T San Diego entitled “Officials want overpaid pensioner to return $500K.”

It seems a Sheriff’s Department captain retired in 1993 on an annual pension of about $97,000. His wife subsequently divorced him and was awarded about a third of his pension payments. She died in 1997, so the retiree requested restoration of his full pension. It took TWO YEARS to accomplish this herculean task, and he was given retroactive payments, but somehow, his pension was increased a second time by the amount his wife had been drawing, and he began receiving almost $148,000 annually, which he later claimed he didn’t realize was in error.

The huge overpayment continued until September of last year. Luckily, a taxpayer watchdog group, California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, requested information on retirees receiving pensions over $100,000 annually. The request, filed in July 2010, was, of course, fought by the retirement system until told by a court more than a year later that it had to comply, and it soon thereafter discovered its overpayment that had been going on for more than 10 years!

The system reduced the retired captain’s pension from more than $12,000 monthly to the correct amount of around $8,000, and the retiree, of course, claimed he hadn’t noticed the amount he had been receiving was a bit large. Nevertheless, the heartless county demanded repayment, and with interest, can you believe? They suddenly thought it was important to recover the overpayment so they could pay pensions to other county retirees? Negotiations ensued, but to no avail.

Enter good old Michael Conger, a local lawyer who has been making a handsome living suing the city and the county on behalf of disgruntled employees and former employees for ages. After being retained, he claimed his client didn’t have the money because he’d paid most of it in taxes, was sick (naturally), and that the county had made no offer of settlement, which the county disputed.

So there the matter stands. The retiree (and Conger) apparently thinks “finders, keepers” and the retiree is, of course, sick as he may be, unavailable for comment because he’s out of town.

The excuse by the county retirement bureaucracy, which regularly touts the efficiency of its systems? The tried and true explanation, “the computer ate my homework.”

I’m sure that Voice readers like myself who worked most of our careers in the private sector find this tale simply beyond belief. Milton Friedman, I think, is credited with the observation that people who spend other people’s money on some third party take the loosest care of it. One has to believe that the error would never have been discovered, even after the retiree passed away, had not a public records request forced them to examine their records. And people claim outsourcing creates problems?

Bill Bradshaw lives in Mission Beach.


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Bill Bradshaw

Bill Bradshaw
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20 comments
shawn fox
shawn fox subscriber

I've dealth with gov't bureacracy before. The idea of paying back the money is fine, but not with interest. The government is wrong on that one; they screwed up and probably prevented a timely resolution in the first place. I'm confused as to why the writer thinks that it is beyond belief. I've seen gov't bureacracy in action for years. It isn't surprising at all. Government is, and has always been terribly inefficient and immoral in many cases. The best solution is probably to garnish future pay, unless the guy has anything in savings. At the rate he was being paid, he should have been able to purchase many cars, RVs, and houses. Time to start confiscating some property and selling it off.

shawn1874
shawn1874

I've dealth with gov't bureacracy before. The idea of paying back the money is fine, but not with interest. The government is wrong on that one; they screwed up and probably prevented a timely resolution in the first place. I'm confused as to why the writer thinks that it is beyond belief. I've seen gov't bureacracy in action for years. It isn't surprising at all. Government is, and has always been terribly inefficient and immoral in many cases. The best solution is probably to garnish future pay, unless the guy has anything in savings. At the rate he was being paid, he should have been able to purchase many cars, RVs, and houses. Time to start confiscating some property and selling it off.

Pat Seaborg
Pat Seaborg subscribermember

I think that if you are criticizing someone's ethics it is important to get the facts right.

pcs
pcs

I think that if you are criticizing someone's ethics it is important to get the facts right.

Bob Hudson
Bob Hudson subscriber

A private disability company informed us they'd being paying too much for two years and our high-priced disability lawyer informed us we have no choice but to accept their demand to pay it back in two years and take the benefit cut. I am counting on some help from the elected officials and bureaucrats who will no doubt bail out this retired government employee.

Bob Hudson
Bob Hudson

A private disability company informed us they'd being paying too much for two years and our high-priced disability lawyer informed us we have no choice but to accept their demand to pay it back in two years and take the benefit cut. I am counting on some help from the elected officials and bureaucrats who will no doubt bail out this retired government employee.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

I see, so it's OK for a law enforcement official to be corrupt if someone in the private sector is corrupt as well?

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

I see, so it's OK for a law enforcement official to be corrupt if someone in the private sector is corrupt as well?

Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

No one is watching the store. As for this story being only "anecdotal evidence", check back issues of The Voice. for, e.g., stories about the relative cost of public vs. private housing or the CCDC and SEDC fiascos. This kind of stuff happens all the time. If you want data, check the actuarial reports from SDCERS to see the huge percentage of "disability" retirees. Milton Friedman had it right!

toulon
toulon

No one is watching the store. As for this story being only "anecdotal evidence", check back issues of The Voice. for, e.g., stories about the relative cost of public vs. private housing or the CCDC and SEDC fiascos. This kind of stuff happens all the time. If you want data, check the actuarial reports from SDCERS to see the huge percentage of "disability" retirees. Milton Friedman had it right!

susanf
susanf subscribermember

really? gosh, i think i would notice if my income suddenly increased by a third.

susanf
susanf

really? gosh, i think i would notice if my income suddenly increased by a third.

Jennifer Reiswig
Jennifer Reiswig subscribermember

I'm sure that nobody in the private sector has taken - or would ever EVER take - advantage of an error in their favor.

bmljenny
bmljenny

I'm sure that nobody in the private sector has taken - or would ever EVER take - advantage of an error in their favor.

Matt Watkins
Matt Watkins subscribermember

I work in the private sector. I do not find this tale beyond belief. My anecdote cancels out your anecdote.

Matt W
Matt W

I work in the private sector. I do not find this tale beyond belief. My anecdote cancels out your anecdote.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Nice to see how honest our local law enforcement is with our tax money.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Nice to see how honest our local law enforcement is with our tax money.