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Wendy Saltzman's CBS Atlanta News Web Blog

Double Dipping

In the last few weeks we’ve been airing several stories about Fulton County Employees Double Dipping.  The series of reports has been met with a myriad of responses- Some people have voiced their anger that employees are allowed to draw two paychecks that citizens taxes are paying for, and others think it is good business sense to re-hire retired workers.

My original investigation was the result of a tip I received from an anonymous source, who was upset that more than a dozen Fulton County Sheriff’s Officers were receiving both a pension and a paycheck.  Here’s how it works— We found in many cases the employees took early retirement from the county.  They retired with a pension (in some cases very lucrative) and county funded health benefits.  Some of those employees then chose to return to their old jobs as soon as 3 to 5 months later, and were pulling in a second paycheck by being rehired in their old jobs.  Any of those employees could have returned to those jobs without debate- but according to the county’s pension policies, their pension should be stopped during the period they are re-hired.  Once they retire again, their new pension would be recalculated based on those additional years of service.

Ultimately we found more than 40 Fulton County Employees who were being paid by the taxpayers twice- both a pension and a paycheck—in violation of the county’s policies.  Fulton County has rules that prohibit retired employees from being rehired for more than 6 months in a calendar year.  The point of that policy is to prevent excessive double-dipping, and to open up these positions to ALL retirees, and not just the select and favored few.

But we found some employees who had been back working in what were supposed to be temporary positions for 4 years or more.  Until our report no one was checking to make sure these employees employment was not violating the county’s rules. Once our report aired there was a rash of criticism from County Commissioners that this practice had been allowed to go on for so long.  As Commissioner Emma Darnell said, how can she tell some of her constituents who are out of a job and don’t even have one paycheck, that the county is allowing some employees to pull in two paychecks—that you are paying for.

On the other side, some people believe these former public servants are the people best trained to do the job, and in addition, because you don’t have to pay them benefits, they are saving the taxpayers money.

Here is my response:  These employees are supposed to be “temporary” employees.  If someone outside the county were to take that job, they would not cost the tax payers for benefits either, because they are not full-time employees.  In addition, the policy does not prohibit re-hiring retired employees, it just prohibits them from working for more than 6 months in a calendar year.  Seems like a fair trade off to me, since by retiring these employees were making a choice not to stay on in their permanent position and to continue to serve the county on a fulltime basis any longer.

The blog Live Apartment Fire suggested double dipping was not wrong. The comparison made in that blog is that the county employees actions are like someone from the Military working for 20 years, retiring from the military, and then returning to the private sector in another job and receiving both their milirtary pension and a private paycheck.  I have no problem with that scenario, but that is not what is happening here.  In this case Fulton County employees are retiring from their county jobs, only to return to the exact same job and receive a second paycheck from the exact same employer.  They are being paid twice by the same “company” in this case, and that company is using tax dollars to fund those duel paychecks. Many of the viewers who wrote me say that would never happen in Corporate America.

In addition, after several employees were forced to resign or lose their county funded pension, it was suggested that WGCL was guilty of “advocacy journalism.”  Advocacy journalism is where a journalist gets involved in a story instead of just reporting it, until the reporter gets results and makes something happen.  That also was not the case here.  After bringing the violations of the policy to the County’s attention as part of our report, County Commissioners on their own, and without prompting from me, ordered a complete review of all of the double-dipping violations. In the end, the County Manager was criticized for failing to enforce the policy earlier, and those employees who were violating the rules resigned.  I did not suggest anyone resign, just as I did not suggest that the county review their policy- Those were decisions made by the people involved after we exposed these frequent violations of the county’s rules.

I don’t believe rules were made to be broken- In this case the County Commissioners felt there was good reason for the pension policies that prohibited reemployment of retired employees in the long term.  The Commission may now also look at whether that policy should be changed to allow these employees to be rehired on a more permanent basis.  Some people argue that makes good financial sense, and that’s a decision only the Commission has the power to make.

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July 23, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

4 Comments »

  1. Wendy as I have said in the past someone has to get after the attorney generals office, not the inspector general. In November when the people kick her highness Franklin out on her butt, then they can make sure Pennington goes too. He was as crooked as they come when he was in New Orleans and it just carried over. The old saying still applies, when the lights go on they run like cocker roaches looking for a home. Like rats abandoning a sinking ship. I can not beleive the people of Atlanta would be that stupid as to re-elect these two, but then stuff happens.

    Comment by Bill Rizzo | July 30, 2009 | Reply

  2. Why does not anybody actually tell it like it is?

    Comment by Bill Rizzo | July 30, 2009 | Reply

  3. I just watched an update on this story on today’s 4 o’clock news broadcast. What surprises me is that the sheriff seems to be unaware of the guidelines for classifying someone as an independent contractor. I think he’s looking at more trouble, but this time from the IRS!

    Comment by Chris | August 27, 2009 | Reply

  4. Wendy,

    FCBOE IS cutting band and orchestra from 4th and 5th grades. Parents should be outraged at our wasted tax money that is spent without regard. Now our children’s programs are being cut. What is their motto again, “where children come first”, first after what, wasteful spending?

    Comment by Lisa | January 26, 2010 | Reply


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