Thursday, September 18, 2008

Article from the St. Petersburg Times by Lucy Morgan

This article is some good reading.

State retiree loophole costs Florida $300M a year

Rule lets employees "retire" with pensions and still get salaries.

By Lucy Morgan, Times Senior Correspondent
Published February 23, 2008


[Times graphic]

It's legal
Here are some of the officials drawing retirement checks while they continue to earn paychecks from taxpayers:
Official Monthly retirement Fiscal '06-'07 salary
Eduardo J. Padron
Miami Dade College president
$14,631 $328,860
Harry Anstead
Supreme Court justice
$7,596 $161,083
Jim Smith
Pinellas Property Appraiser
$6,681 $148,335
Jed Pittman
Pasco County Circuit clerk
$6,242 $136,576
Ann Hildebrand
Pasco County commissioner
$2,778 $78,895
Carlos Alvarez
Miami-Dade mayor
$12,955 $228,826
John Phelps
Former House clerk
$5,728 $138,138
Castell V. Bryant
Former FAMU president
$7,707 $287,356
Source: Florida retirement system

TALLAHASSEE -- A growing number of elected officials are quietly taking advantage of a loophole carved into the state retirement law a few years ago that allows double dipping -- collecting a state pension while still getting a regular paycheck from taxpayers.

The cost of pensions for "retirees" who have returned to the payroll was around $300-million last year, according to the Florida Retirement System.

Records indicate that 211 elected officials in Florida -- including legislators, judges, sheriffs, circuit clerks, school board members and county commissioners -- have taken advantage of the benefit. Thirty-one signed up in the past six months.

Another 203 senior management employees and more than 7,763 regular state employees are collecting retirement benefits and full-time paychecks.

Collier County Judge Eugene C. Turner, first elected in 1983, won re-election in May 2006. He resigned effective Nov. 30 and returned to the bench Jan. 1, without any public announcement. He didn't even tell Collier Circuit Clerk Dwight Brock, who continued to assign him cases.

It was only last week, after a reporter's inquiries, that Brock discovered that Turner had retired for a month. "This was the best-kept secret in Collier County," Brock said.

Turner collects retirement benefits of $7,700 a month on top of his annual salary of $145,080.

Turner says he saved the state money by taking a month off, investing his own retirement money and accepting a retirement benefit that will not increase. He said he made sure other judges handled his cases the month he was gone.

Why didn't he inform the court clerk that he was going to be retired that month? Said Turner: "I didn't tell the school board or the tax collector either."

* * *

The loophole was created, as are so many in Tallahassee, on the last night of a legislative session, when few people notice what gets into bills flying through legislative hallways.

In 2001, lawmakers quietly amended a retirement bill, allowing elected officials to receive retirement benefits as well as regular pay while remaining in the same job. Sponsors said they were trying to help a few lawmakers who had been on school district payrolls before they won election to the Legislature.

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-Port Richey, at the time a House member handling the retirement bill, said he did not realize that a fellow member's last-minute amendment would help so many people collect so much money.

"This is absolutely not what the Legislature intended," he said this week. "It's so sad when you have elected officials who want to take advantage of this."

Fasano said the law should be changed so public officials get either a salary or a pension, but not both. "They are taking advantages of some glitches in the law, and they know they are."

Most state employees getting a salary and a pension are enrolled in the state's Deferred Retirement Option Program, called DROP. It was created in 1998 to encourage retirement of highly paid, senior employees to make room for advances among younger, lower-paid employees.

To enter, employees who reach retirement age or 30 years of employment agree to retire within five years. When they leave the program they usually collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in deferred compensation.

With a supervisor's permission, nonelected employees must remain off the payroll for 30 days before they return to work. They also forfeit retirement benefits for a year.

* * *

Among the double dippers, the top moneymaker is Miami Dade Community College president Eduardo J. Padron.

On May 31, 2006, he terminated his participation in DROP, collected $893,286 in lump sum benefits and began receiving $14,631 a month in retirement pay. He still collects his annual salary of $328,860.

A spokesman for Padron said the president was asked to return to the job when he told board members he was retiring. Said communications director Juan Mendieta, "The process is perfectly legal and acceptable."

Former House Clerk John Phelps retired in 2005, took a month off and returned briefly to his old job at the request of House Speaker Allan Bense. Now he gets $5,728 a month retirement and a $138,138 salary as curator of the Historic Capitol.

Longtime Pasco Circuit Clerk Jed Pittman gets $6,242 a month retirement on top of his $136,576 salary. "It was there, and I wasn't ready to totally retire," he said. "So I took advantage of it. It's been a godsend to me."

Pasco County Commissioner Ann Hildebrand collects a monthly retirement check of $2,778, plus an annual salary of $78,895. She collected $143,196 in deferred compensation when she "retired" in 2005.

Hildebrand said she has explored ways to return some of her salary but hasn't found a way to give it back without having to pay income tax on the money.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Ray E. Ulmer Jr. said he signed up for the program on the advice of state court officials when he had 30 years in the state retirement system. He wasn't ready to retire but thought "it would be foolish from a business standpoint not to do it."

Ulmer gets $10,408 a month in retirement in addition to his annual salary of $143,684. He also got $127,335 in deferred compensation. "I hope they don't take it back," Ulmer joked. "I have developed a certain standard of living."

Pinellas Property Appraiser Jim Smith said he entered the DROP program when he thought he was about to be term-limited out of office and thought he had been lucky to get the additional money. Smith gets retirement pay of $6,681 a month and a salary of $148,335. He took home $423,157 in deferred compensation in 2006.

Some officials collecting two paychecks retired from one government job before being elected to another. Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, retired as Citrus County sheriff in 1996 and started drawing a $7,516-a-month pension before he was elected to the Legislature in 2002.

Five other senators and 10 House members all get state pensions based on longtime government employment plus annual salaries of $31,000 for work as part-time lawmakers.

Pinellas Sheriff Jim Coats says he had enrolled in a state retirement program before he ran for sheriff in 2003. Now, on top of his annual salary of $158,931, he collects $8,958 in retirement pay that is based on more than 30 years as a deputy. As he retired he collected $382,256 in deferred compensation.

Twenty-two sitting judges are double dipping, including Supreme Court Justice Harry Anstead. He collected $426,852 in deferred compensation, gets $7,596 a month retirement plus his $161,083 annual salary.

Anstead was chief judge when he collected retirement benefits in 2004. He decided to remain on the court after lawmakers tried to force him off the bench so Gov. Jeb Bush could appoint his replacement. Now he's scheduled to retire in January 2009.

The retirement payments are among the best-kept secrets in state government. When the St. Petersburg Times asked for a list of elected officials and senior management officers who are double dipping, the Department of Management Services said retiree lists are exempt from the public records law.

Gov. Charlie Crist ordered the list released. "These people aren't retired," said his public records "czarina," Pat Gleason. "They are formerly retired persons, and the statute was not designed to protect them, in my opinion."

Some information remains secret. When officials choose an investment plan instead of a pension and deferred compensation, the law exempts all information from the public record. That left the Times unable to identify the benefits received by about 45 of the state's double dippers.

Shown the newspaper's findings, Senate President Ken Pruitt was livid. He said those who have abused the retirement program may well have "killed the goose that laid the golden egg."

With budget shortfalls facing lawmakers, this is a perfect time to look at reforming the system, he said. "I wonder how many good professionals never got the opportunity for these positions because the people who had been there pushed them aside. This is totally unfair."

Lucy Morgan can be reached at or (850) 224-7263.

[Last modified February 23, 2008, 00:53:55]

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Micheal Hoffman Posted and Update to the Commissioners Meeting

The following is an update from Micheal Hoffman. If anyone else has any imput to the meeting please feel free to email me your synopsis. Thank you - Lindsay Libhart ,

Sept. 8, 2008 Commission meeting

(Small crowd with a minimum of public input. The budget meeting preceded the Commission meeting.)

Budget proposal

A member of the Bull family with municipal government experience in Coral Springs, FL, took a negative slant on the proposed assistant city manager position, which should be in the minutes. A couple of people wanted Chief T to become a consultant, and there was mention of double-dipping.

The Mayor made a strong defense of the idea on the basis of Chief T's track record for tapping into funds from the county, city, state and federal governments. Meserve pointed to Chief T’s recent "find" of $200k the city had been underpaid by the local court system.

The bill passed 5-0 on the first reading, so there still exists an opportunity to lobby for or against.

District Representation

I addressed the proposed ordinance that will institute electoral representation on the marshside of town -- specifically the map of precincts (which by law must contain approximately the same number of residents 18 years and above). You can see the proposed map on the city website (Agenda 9/8/08, item 7A.). Precinct 13-S comprises the west side of Mayport Rd. plus a piece of Royal Palms east to the Aquatic Drive area. I proposed that Jordan join Donner as part of 13-S and that the Royal Palm segment go with the rest of Royal Palms.

Sarge Hall wanted to go with the proposed ordinance, saying that Jordan would be better off with the eastside of town. (If the population west of Mayport Rd. was larger, we wouldn't need to have this debate.)

My contention is that civil rights and voting rights law are on my side of the argument. Donner and Jordan ought to be one neighborhood for combined voting strength in Precinct 13-S.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

What is Millage? Why the Budget is so important!

Each property owners’ ad valorem property taxes are determined by the millage multiplied by the appraised taxable value. This equals the property tax revenue part of the budget.

To determine the millage rate, you divide the "A" – the portion of the budget to be funded by tax dollars – by the second number, "B"-- the net tax digest. The product of this equation is "C," the millage rate.

A divided by B equals C

One "mill" represents one dollar of tax on every thousand dollars of taxable property value.

Actually, the product is the tax on each dollar of taxable value. To determine the tax rate on every $1,000 of taxable value, multiply by 1,000 or just move the decimal point to the right three spaces.

But a tax hike might not prove popular, and could mean political suicide for the local politicians who back it. The alternative will be cuts to services and personnel.

For example, the city council is thinking of cutting important services like the Mayport Corridor Program (Dale Hatfield, Det. Swims and Cassidy). This would be a mistake because the program with the help of the other city staff has proven its success in the short time that it has been active. They are also looking into cutting crossing guards at school crossings, and other important jobs that are currently implemented in the cities organization.

Times are tough and it will be a tough balancing act for the City Of Atlantic Beach. It is very important that us residents watch our commissioners very carefully, and let them know our concerns with the budget. While they are thinking about cutting positions and making the city employees pay more for benefits, they are also going to consider adding the new position of Assistant City Manager at $109,000 a year plus benefits.

It might not be the best time to create a position in the city. Property values are dropping, inflation is higher, people are suffering foreclosures. Insurance rates are higher due to disasters. Energy and transportation are up. The major issue is the that the local govt. is not running like a business. When business is tough, business people make tough decisions. Some of those decisions are hard on people and families. Business owners do not hire or create new positions during hard times, they make cuts and require employees to work other positions or they do layoffs.

With this being said it is very important that we send our letters and concerns to the commissioners and Mayor about the budget. The meeting is at 2:00 PM today in the commissioners chambers and is open to the public. It is a difficult time to meet but if possible send someone in your place. If you do attend please email what was discussed and I will make an effort to post your overview on the blog.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Thank you Woods and Fletcher

I just want to personally thank Caroline Woods and John Fletcher for being so available to the citizens of Atlantic Beach. They have both been very good at returning phone calls, and emails to not just me, but many of the residents. They really understand that in order to hold the public positions that they hold in the city that they represent, it is imperative that they keep communication with the residents open. Both of them take opposition very well and can debate issues while listening to the public. Whether a citizen is for or against Woods and/or Fletcher you must admit that both of them are very responsive to the citizens. Hopefully the other council members will read this and understand how important it is to connect with the citizens.

Thank you for the communications and being our Council Members.

Lindsay Libhart

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Going After Crimes -- and Guns

Richmond, Va., Cleans Up Its Streets
By Severely Punishing Any Firearms Offense
August 5, 2008; Page A12

RICHMOND, Va. -- The National Rifle Association and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence rarely agree on anything related to gun laws. But both support a law-enforcement program in Richmond that targets gun crimes.

The Supreme Court's Second Amendment decision in June that struck down restrictions on individual gun ownership caused city officials nationwide to worry that they could see an increase in gun violence. It also renewed interest in Richmond's efforts to combat it. The city has already reduced firearm-related violence dramatically. It has done so not by making gun purchases more difficult -- Virginia is one of the easiest places to legally buy a handgun -- but by severely punishing all gun crimes, including those as minor as illegal possession.

[Safety On]

The decade-old program is credited with reducing the number of guns on the streets by 31% in its first year, 1997. By 2007, the city registered 56 murders, down from 112 in 1996, the last full year before the program was implemented. Armed robberies dropped nearly a third.

"What they're doing in Richmond isn't brain surgery," says Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spokesman Mike Campbell. "They are sitting down and working for a common goal: put the mopes with the guns in jail. Word spreads when you do that."

Dubbed Project Exile, the program forms the foundation of a series of local, state and federal law-enforcement partnerships. It focuses on the city's most violent areas and hands out harsh sentences for any crime involving a firearm, a move that runs counter to traditional city tactics of barring gun stores and crafting onerous licensing requirements.

With concern over crime rising amid budget cuts to local law enforcement, a small but growing number of law-enforcement officials view Project Exile and the cooperative efforts in Richmond as a way to further accelerate the decline. Other cities, including Springfield and Peoria in Illinois have visited to see what Richmond is doing.

Although the NRA is challenging gun laws in various cities such as San Francisco and Chicago, it supports Richmond's efforts.

"By prosecuting them they prevent the drug dealer, the gang member and the felon from committing the next crime," says NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre. "Leave the good people alone and lock up the bad people and dramatically cut crime."

Although it wants more done to tamp down the supply of guns, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence also supports Richmond's efforts, says Peter Hamm, Brady spokesman. The organization supports any measure that reduces violent crime, which the Richmond effort is doing, he says.

Before Project Exile began in 1997, Richmond had the third-highest murder rate in the nation, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics. Guns were the weapons of choice. That year, then Deputy Assistant U.S. Attorney James Comey and Assistant Federal Prosecutor David Schiller promised 100% prosecution of gun crimes. They ran television and radio ads. A 40-foot city bus was emblazoned with the message: "An Illegal Gun Gets You 5 Years in Federal Prison." Bail was unlikely, parole nonexistent, and inmates facing federal time were more likely to be sent to prisons out of state.

As Project Exile has matured, the marketing campaign has toned down and it has become the basis for a larger cooperative effort. The tough penalties are still in place, but the state has added gun-related penalties of its own, some more severe than federal punishment. At a bimonthly meeting, a team of police, agents and state and federal prosecutors determine in which venue they will bring a case to ensure the maximum possible penalty.

"Whether you take a person state or federal, that person's gone," says David McCoy, the interim Richmond police chief. "The goal is to address violent crime and get violent criminals off the street."

In the 1990s other jurisdictions created similar programs to Exile and like Richmond had initial reductions in gun violence. They experienced a similar rise in that violence in the early 2000s. Violent crime dropped nationally in 2007 after a two-year rise -- even as violent crime continued to go up in smaller cities.

Richmond, however, seems to have overcome at least one obstacle that has endured elsewhere. Although state and federal agencies talk cooperation, there are turf wars -- and agencies aren't always as collegial as they are in Richmond.

But Richmond doubled down on the cooperation among state and federal agencies. The eight federal, state and local law-enforcement agencies and federal and state prosecutors meet regularly almost like one super police force determining where to deploy personnel.

In one example of cooperation, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the FBI took a case to ease the workload on local authorities, says Brian Swann, who heads the ATF office here. The defendant killed a man who was trying to steal his crack cocaine. Although murder cases aren't usually federal, this one involved a firearm and drugs, and so could be moved to federal court. The defendant got life plus 40 years.

North of downtown, Mr. Swann and fellow ATF agent James Panos cruise in an unmarked car. While the agents conduct investigations, they also patrol like city police, engaging citizens and talking to potential suspects, "just to let them know we're here and keeping an eye on them," Mr. Swann says.

The agents respond to all murders in their sectors, as well as all shootings. The other local, state and federal agencies conduct similar operations.

"If we get called out" and someone identifies a suspect as Peanut, "I expect my guys to know who 'Peanut' is, who his grandmother is, who he hung out with last night," Mr. Swann says.

Residents have become accustomed to the agents and wave from porches as they drive by. One house is pockmarked from an old shooting. Nearby, Mr. Panos identifies several people familiar to authorities. One was the subject of a 2006 raid at his home where three guns and 10 grams of crack cocaine were seized. "We couldn't tie him to the guns," Mr. Panos says.

Further along, another young man eyes the car warily. He is known around the neighborhood as a low-grade drug dealer, but one who refuses to carry a gun, Mr. Panos says.

It is quiet for the moment, even in the Providence Park area where there were six shootings earlier this year. State, local and federal officials descended on the area and things have calmed down. "Maybe we'll be out of a job one day," says Mr. Panos.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Congratulations to Mike Classey, AB Cheif of Police

The city Manager promoted Mike Classey, Captain of the City of Atlantic Beach Police Department to Chief. His new position will start on October 01, 2008. He was hired in November of 2006, and has shown the community and his co-workers that he truly is the best man for the job. He has 16 years of experience and 9 of which were in a position of command. He will receive a pay raise and his Captain Job Position will be eliminated.

I have had the pleasure to talk with Captain Classey and he is a real stand up person who cares about the community. He and his wife turned out for a community clean up and they were very productive in helping us fill our dumpster. I look forward to having you serve as Chief, Mr. Classey.

Thank you - Lindsay Libhart

AB Commissioners Meeting - What happend?

It was a eventful Commissioners Meeting on the 25'th of August. The Chambers were full of persons who wanted to speak about Paul Parsons Calling for a Referendum to amend Sec 5 of the city commission charter to remove the district residency requirement from the Ordinance 33-08-15. One citizen was in attendance who was in favor of Parsons Referendum and the rest who wanted to talk about the referendum were there to talk against it. With much amazement, Paul Parsons announced that he was going to withdraw his referendum and give the voters a chance to vote per district and have a commissioner living in the district that they vote in. Thank you Mr. Parsons for looking beyond your personal beliefs and listening to the people.

  • Mayor Meserve requested that the citizens of Atlantic Beach notify him if they were out of power for a long period of time so they can pin point areas to JEA.
* On a Personal Note- JEA has us in the South End of Marsh Oaks on a very good grid, after hearing the stories of citizens being out of power for many hours and days. I can proudly say I was out for 2 hours Max and it was on Sat. at night when the kids were asleep anyway. Thank you JEA for putting us on the beginning of the Grid.

  • The city said that if the citizens want to take advantage of the current city impact fees who have a septic tank, the need to do so by December 1, 2008. After that date the impact fees will be increasing. If you pay the impact fees by December 1, 2008 you will have until May 2010 if you are the Beach Side to hook up to city sewage and November 2001 for Marsh Oaks Residents who have Septic. (Ord. 80-08-76)
  • The City also approved the Ord. 90-08-06. This is the ordinance that will restrict the use of temporary building such as canopy tents, canopy screen rooms, temporary carports to 4 days of use. It also states that you will not be able to park your Recreational Vehicle in the front of your house or front yard. It will prohibit the installation of Security Bars, Metal Awnings, etc. on commercial properties. For Commercial Properties you will be grandfathered in until your business changes ownership.
  • Ord. 33-08-16 was deferred to the next meeting due to Comm. Parsons withdraw of his Referendum.
  • Dogs sitting with customers in outdoor eating establishments. The Division of Hotel and Restaurants states that only service or police dogs can be present in eateries. State Law has not been enforced until recently and the city is currently not aware if any local establishments have been cited. In order for the local govt. to allow this they will have to issue permits to allow for dogs to sit outside in the eating areas. The city will look at neighboring cities to see what they are doing to allow restaurants outdoor eateries to have pets.
  • The Utilities Department is organizing FOG (Fat, oil, grease) program. They are looking in to a program that will require the local businesses that currently have grease traps to follow a plan to have the traps pumped regularly and report to the City Utilities Department. The Utilities department is stating that the grease has caused $15,000 in damage to the sewage system in 2007. Discharging into the sewer system is illegal.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Stick It to Them....or Us

For all of you who want contact information for our commissioners and papers, here you go:

Feel Free to Let Everyone know how you stand on a subject.

Click here to get directed to the COAB web site with the commissioners numbers and email. If you are going to email the commissioners be aware that they rarely respond to the email addresses. But it does go on public record if you email them at the COAB address. Also you can request to view all public records from the Clerk, and print to paper at a price per page, if interested.

John Fletcher: 616-2447 (cell)

Paul Parsons: 247-1473 (home)

Mike Borno: 246-9383 (home), 607-3256 (cell)

Caroline Woods: 241-8973 (home)
Mayor John Meserve: 424-7251 (cell)

Letters to the Editor:

Beaches Leader -
Florida Times Union - Shorelines -

If they do not publish your letter call them and ask them why or simply resubmit your article for the next printing.

Marsh Oaks Neighborhood District Organization(MONDO) Meeting

We are organizing our district into a community Organization known as MONDO. Please check back frequently to see when our next meeting will be held. Currently we are looking into a place to hold regular monthly meetings within the district. We will be emailing fliers, so please email to get on the email list.


Lindsay and all,
I was happy to see you are starting a neighborhood group, Marsh Oaks Neighborhood District, MOND. Hope your meeting goes well. I will be in a Budget meeting.
Would like to see some blogs about the AB Budget...