Workers 'outraged' by Kamenetz, former councilmen's pensions

The head of a Baltimore County public employees union says workers are outraged over the lucrative pension deals of County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and former councilmen Sam Moxley and Vince Gardina.

An amendment to a 2010 pension reform law allowed employees, including the three men, to return to work for the county and accrue new pension benefits while earning their salary. The overall package reduced government workers' pension benefits.

"General county employees have all made great sacrifices to help ensure the health stability of the county, not to just go into someone else's pockets," John Ripley, president of the Baltimore County Federation of Public Employees, said this week.

Moxley now serves as the county's lobbyist, and Gardina heads the environment department. The three men, who were all on the council for the vote, will get lump sums when they retire — benefiting by at least $160,000 each.

A Baltimore Sun editorial published last Sunday highlighted the men's retirement benefits.

"County employees are outraged that they are hearing renewed threats of furloughs at a time when these kinds of so-called loopholes are being exposed," Ripley said, referring to recent statements by Kamenetz's administration that it has not ruled out furloughs for some county workers.

Some members of the County Council say they have heard complaints from constituents. Others are questioning the fairness of the deal, but none on the panel are planning any formal action.

"It sounds like double dipping to me," Councilwoman Cathy Bevins said. The Middle River Democrat said the issue is "worth a discussion with my colleagues."

"We're talking about it," said Councilman Tom Quirk, a Democrat from Catonsville. "That's as far as we've gotten."

Councilwoman Vicki Almond said she's been talking about the pensions with other council members, but "I'm not sure that there's anything really that we can fix."

"I don't really like the thought of going backwards," Almond said. "Our pension is certainly different from the older group. I'm just thinking that perhaps we should just move forward."

Kamenetz chief of staff Don Mohler declined to comment on the pensions, but said Kamenetz has been "open" about his retirement benefits.

"It's an old issue," Mohler said.

Only two members of the current council were in office when the law was passed — Council Chairman John Olszewski Sr. and Councilman Kenneth N. Oliver.

"We passed the amendment, but whether or not they were going to take advantage of that, we didn't know," said Oliver, a Randallstown Democrat.

Oliver said he didn't think there is anything wrong with the pensions.

"I wouldn't stop anyone from making a living to support their family," he said.

Olszewski, a Dundalk Democrat, said he voted for the law because if someone "wants to collect that pension and there's a need for him to work in the county system, I think he should have the ability to do that."

Councilman David Marks said he planned to talk to the administration and his colleagues about the pensions. He received some emails from constituents after the Sun editorial was published, he said.

"A handful of people have raised concerns about the cost," said Marks, a Perry Hall Republican. "I'm not making any judgments or decisions right now. … I'm just going to talk to my colleagues and explore the matter further."

Councilman Todd Huff, a Lutherville Republican, declined to comment, saying he wasn't familiar with the issue.

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