Florida City Approves Controversial Rehiring Policy

PEMBROKE PINES, FL &#8211 The city on Wednesday unanimously approved a new law codifying its existing practice in the police and fire departments of what some call double dipping.

Under the new plan it’s permissible for the city to rehire retired non-union fire and police department employees so they end up drawing both a salary and a paycheck.

About 150 union Pines firefighters, family members and firefighters from other cities protested outside City Hall before the commission voted.

“It’s absolutely discriminatory because it’s only available to the chief and the chief’s administrators,” said Sammy Brown, president of the Professional Firefighters of Pembroke Pines.

The practice can keep good people from getting promotions when retired higher-ups are hired back, Brown said.

The city says it only has one firefighter who gets two checks: Fire Chief John Picarello. He makes $174,803, and his annual pension payments total $135,948. Two other fire department employees have recently retired, started drawing a pension and been rehired as contract employees.

Twenty-two police department retirees have been rehired as officers who serve in schools part-time. The Police Benevolent Association in Pembroke Pines is all for the practice and the new law, spokesmen said, because the retired officers make great school-based officers.

The city believes in the practice, said Daniel Rotstein, human resources director.

“The practice is a very cost-effective way to retain proven, qualified and trained personnel,” he said.

He said rehiring retirees saves the city $2.5 million a year. It keeps the city from putting someone new on the health plan, allows them to hire someone back at a lower salary, keeps someone else from going on the pension plan and eliminates costs for recruitment, background checks and training, he said.

The city has been letting police and fire retirees who are drawing a pension come back to work to draw a salary for more than 11 years, Rotstein said. The city is passing this new law now because without it, Pembroke Pines is not complying with the Internal Revenue Service’s codes and could lose tax-exempt status on its police and fire pension fund.

Other cities, including Miramar, have taken steps to end the process of drawing both a pension and a paycheck. In Pembroke Pines, City Manager Charles Dodge also collects a pension and a paycheck.

Robert Sugarman, attorney for the union, said the double-dipping practice goes against the purpose of a pension, which is making sure retired firefighters have an income.

“It’s to make sure these people have a monthly income that will give them financial security when they retire,” he said. “But for the city’s select management, and this is people only in the highest ranks, above those represented by the union, they get to retire, come back to work, in the same job, put their pension check in one pocket, put their paycheck in another pocket.”

Commissioners decided that the best plan was to approve of the change in order to comply with IRS codes and to do collective bargaining with the fire union later.

From The Sun Sentinel