Double Dipping Double Standard

City’s double-dipping rules hurt some, help others

(Photo Left) City Controller Alan Buckovitz has launched an investigation into administration officials double dipping.

Happy New Year. You’re fired. 

That’s how 13 city employees rang in the new year: summarily fired from their part-time jobs with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department for violating the city’s Home Rule Charter.  And what was the violation?  A charter provision that prohibits city employees from working full time for one government agency and, at the same time, holding a part-time job with another city agency.

In March Philadelphia’s inspector general launched an investigation of these employees at the request of Parks and Recreation Commissioner Mike DeBerardinis.  The employees are 10 schoolteachers, two U.S. Postal Service employees and one worker in the state attorney general’s office. All 13 worked as part-time employees at city recreation centers.

So here’s what we’ve got:  a schoolteacher works all week in the classroom, then, to make ends meet, takes a part-time job on weekends working the desk at a city recreation center. 

The problem with this arrangement, says Philadelphia’s Inspector General Amy Kurland, is that this technically violates a Home Rule Charter provision designed to protect the city’s municipal pension fund.  In announcing the results of her investigation, Kurland released the following statement: “The dual-employment prohibition is an important tool to prevent people who already have a government job from looking to the city for a second pension.”  Kurland went on to tell Metro: “If someone is a schoolteacher, they’re full-time for the School District, he or she is also accumulating a city pension. It’s sort of double dipping.”

And it’s sort of not.

These firings turn the definition of double dipping on its head.  And we are a town that knows a thing or two about the double dip; it became an art form under the city’s DROP program, also designed to limit out-of-control pension costs by encouraging attrition through lump sum buyouts.  The double dip was created by a loophole in the law that allowed elected officials and senior administration officials to resign for a day, take the lump sum buyout then get rehired into the same job at the same salary.  That’s double dipping.

What the Kurland 13 did was not.

None was accused of receiving a second salary for the same work.  None was accused of being a ghost employee in the part-time rec center job. It didn’t matter to the kids at the rec centers that the guy at the desk on Saturdays was delivering the mail on Mondays and it shouldn’t matter to Kurland.  Kurland says it matters because “[o]ur city’s underfunded municipal pension system is one of the biggest challenges Philadelphia faces.   The dual-employment prohibition is an important tool to prevent people who already have a government job from looking to the city for a second pension.”  Mayor Nutter, true to his dogmatic form, chimed in:  “Every city employee must follow the rules and be held accountable when they do not.”

Really, Mr. Mayor? Every city employee?  How about those at the top of the city’s food chain?  J. Matthew Wolfe , a Republican ward leader in West Philadelphia, asked himself the same question and found some surprising (or maybe not so) answers.  In a letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Wolfe writes:

“The inspector general found 13 employees. I wondered what I could find…I just went to the city website: www.phila.gov…[and] found one quickly: Richard Negrin, the managing director. He also holds down the job…of deputy mayor for administration and coordination. Then I found another: Alan Greenberger, the director of commerce. He is also the deputy mayor for economic development. And then there was Donald F. Schwarz, the health commissioner. He is also the deputy mayor for health and opportunity.”

Our take: the only difference between these top administration officials and the part-time rec center employees is that the former are, in fact, double-dips (defined as two payments for the same work) created by Mayor Nutter to circumvent the salary caps for these positions set by the Philadelphia code.

The part-time rec center employees are just hard-working folks trying to make ends meet. The charter, the mayor and the inspector general need to understand the difference.


Double Dipping  Double Standard

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