Passing the buck | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Passing the buck

Posted By on Thu, Aug 13, 2009 at 8:58 AM

It's a shame the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record lies behind a pay wall because it has been doing thorough reporting and commentary on county elected official double-dipping, thanks to a trifecta of secretive dippers discovered in the Garland County courthouse.

An editorial today raises an important point -- the difference between George Hopkins' aggressive effort to insure legal retirements and legal retirement benefits at the Arkansas Teachers Retirement System and the more hands-off approach taken at the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System, where the elected officials did their dirty work.

Hopkins explains it simply. When a retiree hasn't properly qualified for retirement or receives more benefits than he or she is due, the retiree is stealing money from other members of the system. Hopkins is not willing to defer interpretation of his system's clear rules and law to an outside auditing agency, as PERS has done. The Sentinel-Record comments editoriallly today about local elected double-dippers:

We concur with JP Owen’s suggestion that one of several courses of action open to the Quorum Court is to “encourage the governor to appoint someone to run APERS who will investigate carefully the qualifications of any person seeking to receive retirement benefits.” Gail Stone, executive director of the state retirement system, last week said her agency “has no plans for its own investigation ... and is relying on the investigation already in progress at Legislative Audit because APERS is not an auditing agency.” 

As Owen so frankly stated, “Perhaps Ms. Stone is taking this position because at least three members of the APERS board are double-dippers of some type.” [The attorney general has suggested that these board members recuse from considering the issue.]

We don’t know what the APERS Board will do about this mess, if anything, when it meets on Aug. 19. And we can’t say what the results of the various investigations will be or what rec ommendations will ultimately be made.

There is certitude about one thing. These three officials have broken faith with the citizens, who now will be more cynical and reluctant than ever to support projects and programs county government espouses.

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