Glendening aides get special pension

January 28, 1995|By Frank Langfitt and Thomas W. Waldron | Frank Langfitt and Thomas W. Waldron,Sun Staff Writers Sun staff writer Peter Jensen contributed to this article.

Three top aides to Gov. Parris N. Glendening are about to receive thousands of dollars a year in early pension payments from Prince George's County -- the result of an unusual personnel action by Mr. Glendening before he left office as the county executive.

Just before the November gubernatorial election, Mr. Glendening ordered his staff in Upper Marlboro to resign from county government even before his successor, Wayne K. Curry, had been chosen, county officials said yesterday.

Because their resignations were considered "involuntary," some of the officials qualified immediately for payments from a supplemental county pension program even though they had not reached the normal retirement age of 55. The early-benefits provision is designed as a safety net for workers forced from their jobs by political change.

TTC This month, Mr. Glendening hired three of those officials for high-ranking state positions at hefty salaries.

The governor estimated that the three -- Chief of Staff Major F. Riddick Jr., Deputy Chief of Staff Michele T. Rozner and Personnel Secretary-designate Michael J. Knapp -- will receive somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,600 a month from Prince George's for the rest of their lives. The supplemental benefits are in addition to any regular county pension payments to which they may be entitled at age 55.

Mr. Glendening, 52, also will benefit from the program -- receiving $19,200 over the next year. Mr. Glendening qualifies for the pension because he was "involuntarily separated" from county service thanks to term limits that barred him from seeking a fourth term as executive.

As governor, he will earn an additional $120,000 a year.

This week, Mr. Glendening pushed salary packages through the Maryland Board of Public Works for two of the aides he rehired. Mr. Riddick, 44, will earn $118,421 -- about $13,000 less than he made in Prince George's County. Ms. Rozner, 36, will earn $90,206, about $7,000 more than she made in her previous job.

Mr. Knapp, 41, earned $110,928 in Prince George's County. His proposed state salary was not available yesterday; his predecessor earned $95,698.

In an interview yesterday, Mr. Glendening said he asked for the resignation of all of his county staff members as a courtesy to his successor, to make it easier for him to bring in his own people.

He said he actually made the decision when he became county executive in 1982 and found it awkward to ask his predecessor's employees to resign. He said the resignation request was in no way connected to the pension benefits.

"Absolutely not," Mr. Glendening said. "When we asked for this, there was no thought of this [pension issue] at all."

He also said it would have been unfair to exclude the three aides he later rehired; they had paid money into the pension program and deserved to be eligible, he said.

"All I can tell you is we made a neutral decision that everyone should receive the same letter [requesting the resignations]," Mr. Glendening said. "It's tough. There's no easy answer."

As news of the pension payments surfaced in Prince George's this week, some officials criticized the former county executive's handling of the matter.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., who often has been at odds with Mr. Glendening, said the pensions were inappropriate.

"Everyone makes mistakes. This would appear in my opinion to be a major mistake," Mr. Miller said.

Walter H. Maloney, a newly elected member of the Prince George's County Council, called the pension benefits "a real golden parachute."

"I'm astonished. I'm simply astonished," Mr. Maloney said after being told about the pensions by a reporter. "I don't think anybody ought to get a pension until they retire."

Other officials did not seem troubled by the matter.

Anne McKinnon, chairwoman of the Prince George's County Council, said she was not familiar with the details of how Mr. Glendening's aides received their pensions. But Ms. McKinnon, a former state delegate, said she is "sympathetic" to elected and appointed officials who worry about their pensions as they move to different levels of government service in their careers.

Mr. Curry, the new Prince George's County executive, did not return phone calls seeking comment and was not available at either his home or office yesterday.

Then-County Executive Glendening's proposal to create the supplemental pension program was approved by the Prince George's County Council in June 1990. Records of the council's deliberation suggest that nobody on the council questioned the pension plan.

"As I am sure Council will agree, Prince George's County employees well deserve the wage adjustments and the other ancillary benefits proposed in this resolution," Mr. Glendening wrote in a letter urging council approval.

Two years later, the retirement benefits were made much more lucrative and a provision was added that allowed employees, including elected officials, who are "involuntary separated" to qualify.

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