Glendening urged to halt pension

January 29, 1995|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writers Frank Langfitt and Joe Nawrozki contributed to this article.

Lucrative early pensions being paid to Gov. Parris N. Glendening and three of his top aides prompted a flurry of criticism from legislators and civic activists yesterday, including a call from some lawmakers that the benefits be stopped.

Mr. Glendening and his aides soon will begin collecting thousands of dollars annually from Prince George's County even though they have not reached retirement age. Under a quirk in the county pension program, they are eligible now because they were "involuntarily separated" from county service.

In Mr. Glendening's case, the involuntary separation was the term limit approved by Prince George's County voters in 1992 that precluded him from seeking a fourth term as county executive last year.

"I'm astounded," said Casper R. Taylor Jr., speaker of the House of Delegates and a Democrat from Allegany County. "I've never heard of anything like this. If this is an example of what Glendening the county executive considers to be good public policy, I wouldn't want to see this same kind of public policy at the state level."

Wayne K. Curry, Mr. Glendening's successor as Prince George's County executive, said yesterday he is reviewing the pension program to see if the county, which is facing a budget shortfall next year estimated at $108 million, can afford it.

"We're going to examine it, determine its prudence and consider amendments," Mr. Curry said.

He declined to comment on appropriateness of the pension payments, which were reported yesterday.

Mr. Glendening said Friday that pension rules permit him to collect $19,200 a year beginning now, even though he is three years from the normal retirement age of 55.

Also scheduled to collect the early benefits are Michele T. Rozner, 36, who was Mr. Glendening's consumer affairs director in Upper Marlboro and is now a deputy chief of staff in Annapolis; Major F. Riddick Jr., 44, formerly chief administrative officer for Prince George's County and now Mr. Glendening's chief of staff; and Michael J. Knapp, 41, Mr. Glendening's personnel director in Prince George's and the state's new personnel secretary if confirmed by the Senate, as expected.

The pension plan specifies that those who leave county service involuntarily receive 150 percent of what their normal retirement benefit would have been.

Prince George's officials have declined to disclose the dollar amounts of pensions, but Mr. Glendening estimated that the annual benefit for Mr. Knapp and Mr. Riddick would be about $19,000 each. Ms. Rozner said her pension would be about $15,000 a year.

Their Annapolis salaries range from $90,000 to $118,000.

The three aides' departures from county government were considered involuntary because Mr. Glendening ordered his top staff members to submit their resignations well before he left the executive's office.

On Nov. 4 -- four days before the general election -- Mr. Glendening told 30 aides and Cabinet members to resign to make it easier for his successor to name his team.

Some legislators said yesterday that the pension benefits should be returned to Prince George's County, particularly in light of its budget problems.

Robert H. Kittleman, minority leader of the House of Delegates, said the governor and his aides should not accept the pension until they reach 55. Mr. Kittleman, a Howard County Republican, said the episode tarnished the clean government image Mr. Glendening has crafted and may shorten his honeymoon in Annapolis.

"It makes him look like an old-time, back-room politician that people are trying to get rid of," he said. "I don't know why he did it. I think he would be smarter than that."

Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, said she was stunned by news of the pensions, saying they should be halted.

"I'm sure it's legal," she said. "But I think it damages the reputation of people in political life. It looks like if you work for a politician, you get the kind of benefits that nobody else gets."

Mr. Glendening, through a spokesman, continued yesterday to defend the Prince George's pension.

Tim Ayers, Mr. Glendening's communications director, said the governor thought he and his aides are being held to a "double standard." No questions are being raised about former Prince George's County officials who receive similar pensions but went to work for the private sector rather than state government, Mr. Ayers said.

"If you go into public service, your name winds up on the front page of the paper, as opposed to anybody who went to work for Amoco or something, it would be OK," Mr. Ayers said in summarizing Mr. Glendening's concerns.

At issue is Prince George's County's supplemental pension plan, established in late 1990, which pays benefits on top of the normal pensions earned by county employees. County government and employees contribute equally to the plan.

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