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Retirement benefits called power 'grab' Gary aides want pension rise removed


A 1989 law to enhance retirement benefits for appointed and elected officials in Anne Arundel County was a deliberate "grab" by those in power at the time, aides to County Executive John G. Gary said last night.

They urged the County Council to approve a reform bill proposed by Mr. Gary to strip those benefits from 58 current and former employees. The bill was scheduled for a vote late last night.

"We're not talking about people who were in the merit system," said County Attorney Phillip Scheibe. "We're talking about people in high positions of trust and power in this county."

County Personnel Officer Hilton Wade said the council has "a moral obligation" to repeal the portions of the 1989 law, which increased the benefits of political appointees by 25 percent and reduced the retirement age for both elected and appointed officials from 60 to 50.

"These cannot be considered your normal retirement benefits," said Mr. Wade, noting that the changes added up to $300,000 to the lifetime benefits of some former employees.

Mr. Wade said the changes were part of a "pattern of conduct" between 1982 when O. James Lighthizer took office as county executive and 1990 when he left the Arundel Center, "which resulted in some people receiving some very enhanced benefits."

Deputy County Attorney David Plymyer said the "grab" included changes both in the way salaries were calculated and in the awarding of credits for years of service outside the county pension system.

Deborah Turner, chairwoman of the county's Pension Oversight Commission, testified against the proposed reforms. She said the reforms would unfairly penalize employees who had no role in formulating the benefits but had made "life decisions" based on their promise.

The nine-member oversight panel recommended unanimously against passage of Mr. Gary's reform bill.

"They should not have planned their lives [around these benefits]," Mr. Plymyer said. "These are all people who were in a position to know or who should have known better.

"This could not have happened without the tacit agreement of all the elected and appointed officials in office between 1987 and 1989," Mr. Plymyer said.

Several council members -- none of whom was in office during that period -- questioned the $4 million Mr. Gary has estimated the reforms will save county taxpayers.

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