Should D.C. Try to Get Double Dipping Money Back?
In this week's column, LL reports that more than two dozen retired police officers had been improperly receiving a full salary and a pension until very recently. One thing LL didn't have much space to discuss was the city's plans, or lack thereof, to try and recoup what's likely millions of misspent District tax dollars.
"While I would have preferred to seek repayment, our counsel informed us that our legal case was not strong," Mayor Vince Gray told LL in a statement.
Indeed, Charles Tucker, general counsel for the D.C. Department of Human Resources, says he's not seeking reimbursements from the overpaid employees because he doesn't know what they were told when they were rehired. Some, like D.C. Protective Services Chief Lou Cannon, have said District officials told them double dipping was okay. That possibility, Tucker says, makes it impossible for the city to try and recoup what it overpaid to the rehired cops.
But that's an awkward position for Tucker to take. Tucker also says that none of the rehired cops have been able to name the officials who allegedly told them double dipping was kosher. “Anytime I press someone, no one was able to say who," says Tucker. (Cannon says he's provided names.)
Tucker also notes that the District makes it pretty clear that retired cops who return to city employment are going to have a pension offset in their salaries. Indeed, it took LL about three minutes poking around on the D.C. Retirement Board's website to find a booklet explaining the law: "If you begin working for the D.C. Government while receiving a retirement benefit that started after November 17, 1979, your D.C. Government salary will be reduced," it says. That kind of clarity, it seems to LL, would argue in favor of the city trying to recoup the money.
There's also recent precedent for the city recovering an improperly paid salary. The Examiner reported last year that Assistant Police Chief Alfred Durham was improperly receiving a 10 percent longevity bonus. Durham agreed to reimburse the city. "If I'm not entitled to it, I'll pay it back," he said.
Of course, the Examiner followed up a few months later to find that, surprise, Police Chief Cathy Lanier had given Durham a pay raise that covered what he was paying back. Lanier followed the same playbook with three of her subordinates who were improperly double dipping. She got them huge raises, including a $28,000 bump for one employee whose only rejoined the department in March.
LL wondered what Councilmembers Mary Cheh and David Catania, both of whom were critical of the mayor's disasterous early hiring and pay practices, thought of these new developments. Both said they'd like to hear more from the mayor as to why the city isn't trying to recoup its money and whether Lanier's raises were justified.
"This has the appearance of favoritism," says Cheh. Indeed.