Council OKs dropping age rule for pensions

Those with 30 years can get full benefits

January 09, 2002|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

In a 4-3 vote, the Anne Arundel County Council has delivered a new retirement plan to 2,600 workers that awards full pensions after 30 years' employment, regardless of age. Yesterday morning, County Executive Janet S. Owens said thank you with lush bouquets of tulips, irises and daisies for council members who voted for it.

"I guess it's for appreciation," Councilwoman Shirley Murphy said yesterday. She was one of four Democrats who joined forces Monday night to approve the Owens bill that significantly alters personnel policy and sets the "30 and out" retirement plan.

Administration officials estimate that the cost of the policy - including pension payouts, which represent the bulk of anticipated expenses - could reach $1.5 million this year; some say the cost could be twice that. Sixty employees are said to be eligible for retirement this year.

The gift card that came with Murphy's flowers read: "Big win for us! Fondly, Janet S. Owens." Similar bouquets were sent to the Annapolis offices of council members Pamela G. Beidle, Bill D. Burlison and Daniel E. Klosterman Jr. A spokesman said Owens paid for the flowers herself.

Council members who opposed the pension plan said the changes were unfair to employees who didn't start work with the county at a young age. They also said it lacked careful fiscal planning.

One council member who voted against the bill called the floral gifts "irresponsible."

"Isn't that insane?" said John J. Klocko III, a Crofton Republican who voted against the pension legislation with Cathleen M. Vitale, a Severna Park Republican, and Barbara D. Samorajczyk, an Annapolis Democrat. "Who is the `us' in that card?

"Shouldn't the `us' be the people who represent the citizens of this county?" Klocko said. "It is irresponsible to reward elected officials with big bouquets of flowers. So what are you doing? Paying for four votes and isolating other council members?"

Beidle, who represents Linthicum, said she backed the bill because the "30 and out" policy was "promised" to employees during labor negotiations. She called Klocko's accusations "shameful."

"You want to make employees feel valuable," she said. "I really feel that this was a policy issue. We budgeted for it and we needed to follow through."

It's clear the support from Owens and the four council members - all of whom are seeking a second term - didn't go unnoticed by the union.

"Without the administration standing firm, it wouldn't have happened," said Mike Akers, president of Local 582 of the Association of Federal, State and Municipal Employees. "Without the four council members in favor, it wouldn't have happened."

Before the policy change, employees had to have 30 years of service and be at least 55 years old to retire with a full pension. If they retired at a younger age, they forfeited some benefits.

At the meeting Monday, union members wore green T-shirts and buttons and cheered when a final vote was cast about 11:45 p.m. Union leaders gave up larger pay raises to get the "30 and out" clause, they said, and they worried the council would gut the bill.

"We were sweating a little bit," Akers said.

Murphy, who made a passionate speech for the bill, said yesterday that her colleagues' critical questions at the meeting made her "blood boil." She said her vote was not based on political payback or promises.

"Baloney, I raised my family union," said Murphy, whose husband, Fran, was a union member for 42 years. "I have always had the support of the union. I represent blue-collar workers. I know those other [council members] don't."

At the meeting Monday, Samorajczyk said she was not against organized labor or employees getting a fair deal, but poor policy decisions.

"I think this [bill] was based on a misunderstanding," she said. "I think once employees realize that [the new policy] will benefit only a small group of people, it will decrease morale."

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