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Dozens of Baltimore County employees, including four high-ranking officials, get enhanced pension benefit

Four high-ranking Baltimore County officials and dozens of other employees are covered by an enhanced pension policy that’s been criticized as “double dipping,” according to data provided Friday by the county.

The practice, approved in 2010, allows some employees to earn two pensions plus a lump-sum payout if they retire from one job and take another county position.

Three administration officials who have been approved for that pension option are Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, environment director Vince Gardina, and Sam Moxley, a top legislative aide to Kamenetz.

A fourth, inspections director Arnold Jablon, is banking a pension benefit from an earlier position he held in county government while earning a paycheck for his current post, but he is not accruing a second pension, officials said.

All four declined interview requests through a spokesman.

According to the county, dozens more lower-ranking employees are enrolled in a provision of the policy that allows them to simultaneously receive a pension check and a paycheck -- but not a lump-sum payout.

Baltimore County officials provided information about beneficiaries of this pension option Friday following requests from The Baltimore Sun since Tuesday, when Councilwoman Vicki Almond announced she will introduce a bill at Monday’s County Council session that, if approved, would end the program.

The legislation proposed by Almond, a Reisterstown Democrat, would remove the section of the county’s pension law that created the enhanced pension benefit.

According to the information released Friday, 33 employees have been approved to receive both a pension check and a paycheck for returning to work for the county.

Of that group, 22 are retired police officers who were re-hired into the department, most as part-time police assistants, according to the county.

Eight are former police officers who are now correctional assistants at the county jail in Towson.

Three others include one person who works in administration at the Fire Department, one who works in emergency preparedness at the Fire Department and one who works in security for the school system.

The Baltimore County Council changed pension rules in 2010 so that certain employees hired before 2007 could qualify for the enhanced pension benefits if they retired from one county job, then took another. The county administrative officer determines who is allowed to participate.

Kamenetz, Gardina and Moxley were all members of the council at the time and voted for the change. The change was made months before Kamenetz won election as county executive and hired Gardina and Moxley to work in his administration.

Jablon had worked in county government for 25 years, including as county attorney, then left for private practice with the Venable law firm and returned as director of the Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections.

Kamenetz, Gardina and Moxley all earned pensions during their time on the County Council. Now, as they are drawing executive branch salaries, the money they would have received from their pensions is set aside in an account. Meanwhile, they earn credits toward a second pension.

Upon retirement, they’ll receive a lump sum from their banked pension benefits, plus checks from two pensions.

According to analysis from Almond’s office, Kamenetz would be eligible for a $48,000 annual pension from his 16 years on the council, plus a $70,000 annual pension from his eight years as county executive. He also would receive a lump sum payout of $384,000 for the amount of benefits from the first pension that he banked while serving as executive.

Kamenetz, a Democrat, is considering a run for governor next year.

Cole Weston, president of Baltimore County’s Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4, said the pension option was described in 2010 as a way to entice retired police officers to come back in a part-time role to help the county.

Several police retirees are now working part-time to help conduct background checks on prospective police employees, Weston said.

While that work may be valuable, Weston said the FOP is concerned that high-ranking employees are using the pension rules to set themselves up for large payouts.

“What we’re finding out now is that the legislation has expanded into other categories that absolutely should be subject to scrutiny and divulged to members of the public … to determine whether, in fact, that’s an appropriate use of that section of the code,” Weston said.

Almond’s legislation would need four votes on the seven-member council to pass. A vote could be scheduled for September.

pwood@baltsun.com

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