Retire/rehire programs shouldn’t be allowed

Alex Belz

Last week, Marquette County Board Commissioner Gerald Corkin, who served as chairman of the Marquette County Commission for 22 years, wasn’t nominated again for the position. Under his leadership, many great programs were started, continued and developed. Yet there was one program which seems to have been his undoing –– the controversial retire/rehire program.

A retire/rehire program is one in which an employee, usually one of a public body like a city commission or county board, retires and is given a pension and then is rehired. Sometimes this employee is given the same salary as before, other times it may be less or even more. The problem is that these employees are being paid twice with tax dollars –– once for pension, once for salary.

Andy Harmon/NW

These programs should be illegal in this country and especially in a state like Michigan, the only state to lose population (6 percent drop from 2000) in between the 2000 and 2010 censuses. Young people deserve a chance to fill those positions being occupied by retirees who double-dip into taxpayer money.

Officially, in Marquette County the policy was rescinded in February of 2010. Corkin has since called it a “dead issue.” Yet, the issue seems very much alive, given that as of Jan. 1, 2011 there were still 23 workers under the program in Marquette County. Last fall, a county employee in the tax equalization office named Lynn Anderson was yet another employee added to the list of people under the retire/rehire policy. Her rehiring was justified by Corkin because Anderson was hired part-time, at a lower rate of pay.

The hiring was done without notifying the board. Some commissioners were upset at the news, even calling a special meeting on Dec. 21, 2010 to discuss it, but a quorum was not reached.

Commissioner Paul Arsenault told TV 6 that the “biggest benefit” to rehiring a retired employee is that “you’re bringing on an employee back to a position that has worked it, understands the position and is efficient at it.” While I can’t argue with the inherent logic there, I do have a question –– why let the employee retire in the first place? If the employee is the best person for the job (better, perhaps, than all the people fleeing the state looking for jobs), then why not just let them stay working? There is no need to give them a pension for retirement and then give them a salary on top of it. No one is that good at their job. Not on the taxpayer’s dime.

Since Commissioner Dave Bergdahl was nominated to be chairman, a new debate has begun on the board regarding the policy. Some commissioners are agreeing with Corkin that it is a dead issue, while others are saying that retirees should be allowed to be brought in for temporary positions and still others are saying it shouldn’t be done at all.

But what is most important is that now there’s a conversation. I’ll admit I haven’t been the most adamant reader of what the commission has done over the years, but it seems to me that if the program was rescinded in February and continued in the fall, then clearly there was a hiccup somewhere in the system. I hope Bergdahl is able to preside over this commission in such a way that an agreement is made which is fair to both the people who have worked for the county –– and for the taxpayers who elected them and pay them.

In the mean time, the state continues to scowl at every program with a red pen in hand, intending to axe whatever  it can to cut costs and keep money in the state. Perhaps it should consider banning these programs altogether. After all, every position filled by a retiree is one that could’ve been filled by someone fleeing the state.