Dixon's pension deal draws protest

About 30 people shook signs and chanted in front of City Hall Tuesday afternoon to protest the $83,000 annual pension Mayor Sheila Dixon will receive after resigning from office as part of a plea deal.

"It's an abomination," said Sylvia Harris, the mother of former City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr., who was killed in 2008. "Sheila should be ashamed of herself. There's no way we can continue to let the politicians in Maryland to continue to benefit from crime." Her son would be "horrified" by Dixon's pension, she said.

Josh Dowlutt, a 30-year-old mortgage company owner from Highlandtown, said he planned the rally because of the "injustice and iniquity" of Dixon receiving the pension for the rest of her life.

"What kind of a punishment did she get?" he said. "Every year Baltimore is going to have a much better use for $83,000 than paying her."

Under the city code, elected officials convicted of a job-related offense forfeit their pensions. However, because Dixon received probation before judgment as part of a plea deal, she is not legally considered "convicted," said Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, who chairs the city's employees and elected officials retirement systems board.

Last week, Dixon pleaded guilty to perjury for failing to disclose lavish gifts from a former boyfriend, a developer, on city ethics forms. She was granted probation before judgment for the perjury charge as well as for an embezzlement conviction for taking gift cards meant for the needy.

As part of the agreement, she must leave office Feb. 4 and cannot work for the city or state while she is on probation. She must also donate $45,000 to charity and cannot use city funds to pay her legal bills.

It is unclear how much Dixon, who served as a council member, council president and mayor for a total of 22 years, paid into the pension system. Officials generally contribute about 5 percent of their salaries each year, said Roselyn Spencer, executive director of the city's employee and elected official pension board.

Dixon, who attended an event earlier in the afternoon at the Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant's influential and wealthy mega-church, the Empowerment Temple, was not at City Hall during the protest, aides said.

Spokesman Scott Peterson declined to comment on the rally, except to say, "Everyone has a right to protest." He would not say how Dixon spent the rest of the work day.

Her successor, City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, traveled to Annapolis for a luncheon with top state and local Democrats on the eve of the opening day of the General Assembly session. After the Board of Estimates meeting, she will return to the State House today.