Top state officials to join exodus to retire Some workers eligible for incentive program seen as hard to replace

August 29, 1996|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Margaret Pardoe is ready to go.

On Oct. 1 the 20-year veteran of the comptroller's office will leave the state payroll two years earlier than she had planned to devote more time to tending her garden, visiting her son in Georgia and playing with her nine grandchildren -- "not necessarily in that order."

Pardoe is taking advantage of an early retirement program that is expected to entice about 2,600 state workers to sign up by the deadline Saturday.

The General Assembly authorized the early retirement incentives this year as part of the Glendening administration's plan to shave about 1,800 positions from the state work force.

As of the close of business Tuesday, the State Retirement and Pension Systems had received 2,050 applications from workers who have decided to take the money and run. Under the law, 60 percent of the vacated positions will not be filled.

Frederick W. Puddester, secretary of budget and management, said he expects to save $10 million in the current fiscal year as a result of the program. Over the next four years, the savings will increase to $30 million a year, he said.

For Pardoe, the program means she can afford to retire as audit review supervisor at 60 instead of 62 with virtually no loss of retirement income.

"There are times when being 60 works," said the Pasadena resident.

Joining Pardoe in the exodus will be some of the most respected senior executives in state government -- people whose institutional knowledge will be hard to replace. The program also is likely to clear out many of that dwindling band that came to government during a bygone era when a career in public service was held in the highest esteem.

Among those who say they are signing up for the early retirement plan are such Annapolis stalwarts as William S. Ratchford II, director of the Department of Fiscal Services; F. Carvel Payne, director of the Department of Legislative Reference; Mary F. Atwell, administrator of the Legislative Accounting Office; and George H. Spriggs Jr., director of revenue administration in the comptroller's office.

None of these officials is a household name, but to people in state government each is a fixture almost as enduring as the State House itself.

Ratchford, 64, has been the legislature's chief budget watchdog for 22 years out of a 28-year Maryland government career. Payne has headed the legislature's research and bill-drafting arm for 19 of his 26 years with the agency. Atwell, who started in state government in 1948, has been scrutinizing legislators' spending since her office was established in 1967. Spriggs has been with the comptroller's office so long that he can remember getting a new top boss in 1959 -- a young fellow named Louis L. Goldstein.

Other prominent officials who have announced plans to leave include John A. Agro Jr., chief of the Mass Transit Administration; and Michael A. Glass, formerly acting secretary of personnel and now executive director of the Office of Human Resources at the Department of Budget and Management.

Some retirees, such as Ratchford, Spriggs and Payne, will be allowed to delay their departures until the end of this fiscal year, but as of July all will be gone.

For some, like Pardoe, the retirement program means a head start on a well-deserved rest. For others, already eligible to retire, it provides an incentive in the form of a month's extra service credit for each year worked.

"It's just a little icing on the cake," said Atwell of the Eastern Shore, who puts her age at "over 21."

Generally, the plan allows employees who are at least 50 and would have 25 years' service by next June 30 to leave their jobs with a sharply reduced penalty for early retirement. Certain employees who are 60 and have 20 years also qualify.

For state workers who are in their early 50s and have marketable skills, the program provides a golden opportunity to launch a second career. Agro, 50, and Payne, 53, are among those planning to seek opportunities in the private sector.

"The benefits were something I couldn't ignore. This is an age where I think I can go out and find something else where my experience could be helpful," said Payne.

With three days to go before the deadline, some officials are still on the fence.

"It's a tough call," said Gene M. Raynor, state administrator of election laws. At 60 and with 40 years of state service.

To accommodate last-minute deciders, the state pension system plans to keep its Baltimore office open Saturday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. The office, at 300 W. Preston St., will accept retirement applications in person, by mail or by fax at (410) 333-7550 or (410) 333-7557. State employees with questions may call (410) 767-4030 or (800) 492-5909 for information.

The departure of so many experienced employees in a short time frame has raised worry about the program's effect on the workings of state government.

John E. O'Donnell, executive director of the State Ethics Commission, wonders whether the new crop of state government managers will be able to fill the shoes of their predecessors.

"It's kind of like the Orioles. I don't know that we have the farm system we once had," said O'Donnell, who plans to stay on despite being eligible after 27 years with the state.

But O'Donnell added that he believes there is no such thing as an indispensable employee.

"Sometimes the veterans know too much about what you can't '' accomplish, and that can be a negative," he said.

Pardoe isn't worried about the void she'll leave behind.

"It's time to leave. Let somebody else take a shot at it."

Pub Date: 8/29/96

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