End of the line on pension battle Gary blinded by anger over benefits awarded by his predecessors.

December 15, 1997

THE U.S. SUPREME COURT did Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary a favor by refusing to hear an appeal of a county lawsuit that sought to roll back pensions awarded to 93 top county officials in 1989.

Mr. Gary, who has devoted a disproportionate amount of time pursuing this will o' the wisp effort to recoup pensions already awarded, can move on to more important business.

Since he took office, Mr. Gary has been rightly outraged at the pension plan for elected and appointed officials approved five years before he came county executive.

The plan increased pension benefits by 25 percent and lowered the retirement age to 50 years old, making it one of the most generous retirement packages for local government in Maryland. Indeed, Anne Arundel taxpayers will be stuck for this bill for years to come.

But as indignant as Mr. Gary should be about officials enriching themselves at taxpayer expense, rolling back the pension was impossible under the American legal system. As U.S. District Court Judge Andre Davis ruled in 1996, the contractual aspect of the 1989 pension ordinance was valid. It cannot be changed retroactively. By refusing to hear this case, the Supreme Court upheld Judge Davis' original ruling.

It was clear last year that Mr. Gary's argument would not meet the standard needed to reach the Supreme Court. He alleged that a previous County Council enacted the bill because it was misled by county administrators. Since the council approved these pensions in open session and followed its own rules and procedures, no court was about to substitute its judgment for that of local elected officials.

Mr. Gary's legal advisers did him no favors by recommending that they continue to appeal the lawsuit. Mr. Gary himself squandered public money -- about $11,000 -- on a quixotic quest to find evidence that would prove that public officials engaged in criminal conspiracy to pass the 1989 pension bill.

To his credit, Mr. Gary has already achieved a major overhaul of the pension system to prevent such abuse from recurring. Unfortunately, he may be remembered more for his pursuit of a lost cause than for a much-needed overhaul in the county's retirement plan.

Pub Date: 12/15/97

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