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Can you top this?
Would you believe Vero is “leasing” one of its retirees at far more than his old pay?

(Week of March 3, 2011)

Vero Beach is knee-deep in the tradition of letting employees retire and then hiring them back – often, records show, at higher rates of pay. 

Now – in a case that may be a winner in “can you top this” category-- comes the discovery that the City of Vero Beach is “leasing” one of its retired employees from a big-time professional staffing firm at an eye-popping 60 percent higher hourly fee than his pre-retirement rate of pay.

With Assistant Finance Director Jackie Mitts and Finance Director Steve Maillet on the double-dipping rolls, the case of David Pearson raises a whole series of new questions about how many employees who’ve retired are back on the city’s payroll.

Pearson was rehired and began receiving double pay – his retirement check plus a new paycheck from Robert Half Technology -- at the time Vero Beach electric rates began soaring to record levels in 2009.

And there seems to be “no ready explanation” for how or why this occurred, according to Mayor Jay Kramer.

Pearson was originally hired by the City of Vero Beach in October 1982 after four years in the Air Force and a decade with Piper Aircraft. He was 40 and was placed in the position of Electrician/Technician at the Vero Beach Power Plant for $12 per hour plus benefits.

In 1987, his job title changed to Programmer/Dispatcher. Pearson transferred to the Electric Transmission and Distribution division of the utility in 1997. He retired in May 2008, at age 66, after 26 years on the job.  At the time he retired, he was earning $31.93 per hour.

Pearson walked away with $45,915 in banked sick and vacation time, representing 10 years of sick days and nearly 60 vacation days. His pension of $3,091 per month started immediately.

Nine months after his retirement, in February 2009, while city workers were facing the inevitability of furloughs, the City of Vero Beach brought back Pearson.

But it wasn’t a matter of simply rehiring Pearson as a contract employee.

Instead, Vero contracted with Robert Half Technology to provide a “temporary” employee, and it recruited the city’s own former staffer to do the same job he retired from.

The price tag for this repeat performance:  $52.50 per hour. That’s $20.57 more than Pearson ever made with the electric utility.

It is not known how much of that $52.50 an hour Pearson gets, and he could not be reached for this story.  His wife Angelica, however, said he never intended to double dip, but was called back “because, you know, they have problems.”

So every week, Transmission & Distribution Administrator Donna Stevens -- wife of Power Resources Director Jim Stevens at the Power Plant -- receives an invoice for a week of Pearson’s time. There are 85 invoices in all through Feb. 7, 2011.

During the first three months Pearson worked as a “temporary” employee for the city through Robert Half Technology, he clocked an average of 25.8 hours per week and the time was sporadic -- ranging from 8 hours per week to 47.75 hours per week.

Then the next solid year, he worked an average of 39 hours per week, except for Thanksgiving 2009 when he took the week off.

In August 2010, it appears Pearson’s normal weekly hours were reduced to 24, but there were several weeks when they crept up to 32 or even 40 hours during this time period.

A public records request shows that Pearson’s job was advertised in August 2008 at a rate of $20.53 per hour and was filled internally by an employee named George “Randy” Pfarr at a rate of $28.65 per hour. It appears that Pfarr then moved to a different position, as he was listed as Pearson’s “supervisor” on numerous weekly invoices from Robert Half Technology.

Mayor Kramer has been looking into the expenses of the electric utility and he also fought to get the city’s check register online every month. When asked if he’d seen the substantial payments to Robert Half Technology (a division of Robert Half International), Kramer was not aware of them but promised to look into the matter and to find out why the city used a staffing firm to lease its own retired employee.

“That’s why the check register is there.  We’re getting to show everybody what’s going on. That’s why we added that,” Kramer said.

No one seems to know why the city needed to contract with Robert Half Technology to find and provide Vero with its own retired staffer.    “There is no ready explanation,” Kramer said Monday.

Kramer said he had met with city staff and asked about the matter, and that T & D Director Randall McCamish is expected to explain why it was a fiscally smart decision to let Pearson retire and then re-hire him through Robert Half Technology.

“It’s my understanding that Randall was not ready to tell us about it yet. I guess he is still in the process of taking a look at the numbers,” Kramer said. “It’s one of those things that’s trickling down and we’ll see what we can find out.”

As of press time, Pearson’s job is not advertised on the city’s website. A manager position is listed in the Electric T & D department where Pearson works. That position appears to have been open since March 2010. The salary listed for that job ranges from $30.18 to $40.74 per hour, depending upon qualifications.

Pearson is still working for the Vero Beach Electric Utility at a cost to the city of approximately $40,000 per year more than he was being paid as an employee and, of course, is receiving his $3,091 a month pension.

Meanwhile, city staff complains that the budget has been cut “to the bone” and Power Resources Director Jim Stevens has told his staff publicly that the City Council is to blame for no money being available to fund anything in the electric utility.