Bill would allow most workers in wrong pension plan to keep benefits

August 03, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

Councilwoman Maureen Lamb has introduced legislation that would let most of the 17 current and former county workers mistakenly included in the Appointed and Elected Officials Pension Plan keep their benefits.

The legislation addresses County Attorney Judson P. Garrett Jr.'s legal opinion, issued last week, that employees are not "appointed officials" and thus are not entitled to the plan's benefits, more generous than those of the general employees plan.

Mr. Garrett's opinion said the employees should be stricken from the plan and the county should investigate recouping benefits already paid to them.

The plan was created in 1973. The County Council modified it in 1989 to increase benefits and lower the retirement age to 50.

Those changes, along with the hiring of former state employees who could transfer service credits into the plan without bringing any assets, contributed to a financial liability that could be as much as $14 million.

Ms. Lamb, an Annapolis Democrat, said it was only fair to let employees who served the county for at least six months retain their benefits.

"We gave them what I consider contracts," she said.

The 17 employees were in the more lucrative pension plan because they were part of the executive or exempt employees pay plan. Ms. Lamb's bill would officially define an appointed official as someone who is part of the exempt pay plan.

"It was obviously the intent of the county all along to have them included in the [pension] plan," she said. "Since it was our intention and we had these people work for us and they made commitments [based on the expectation of receiving that pension], we should keep our commitment to them."

A second bill Ms. Lamb introduced would prevent the county from collecting any pension benefits already paid to the seven retirees who were erroneously included in the plan.

"That's a terrible thing that they would have to borrow money to pay back what the county gave them," she said.

Louise Hayman, a spokeswoman for County Executive Robert R. Neall, said the executive had been briefed on the bills and had wondered if the six-month county employment requirement may not be long enough. Mr. Neall is out of town on vacation.

Keeping the 17 employees in the plan may look like a costly decision, "but in the long run it could be cheaper if all the aggrieved parties decide to sue," said Ms. Hayman.

A third bill introduced by Ms. Lamb would add council members' legislative assistants to the contribution plan for elected and appointed officials. The new plan deducts money from an official's salary and adds a county match, as opposed to granting a pension benefit based on years of service. The legislative assistants were inadvertently left out of the plan when it was created last year, Ms. Lamb said.

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