OGDEN — Providing payouts to eligible Weber County employees on retirement in lieu of extended health coverage could benefit the county in the long run, if expanded on a larger scale, argues the former human resources director.
Six former elected Weber County leaders have received such payouts on leaving office, most recently a former county commissioner and the former sheriff, who last month got checks for $64,495.20 and $51,898.80, respectively. But the practice generated backlash from the current slate of county commissioners, and on March 12 they axed the controversial 2014 policy that allowed payouts, irked, in particular, that it applied to departing elected leaders but almost no one else.
Brad Dee, though, who served as Weber County's director of administrative services/human resources until January 2017, defended the practice, at least as applied on a grand scale. Turns out he received a payout as well, the only non-elected official to so benefit, and he noted the considerable cost to the county of the alternative — providing eligible county employees with up to five years of health coverage when they retire.
"It becomes a cumbersome, cumbersome thing," Dee, who now lives in St. George, said by phone. Providing a one-time cash payout in lieu of health coverage allows the county to provide the benefit and be done with it, eliminating what would otherwise be the lingering costs of administering a health care program for retirees.
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As with the six other former elected officials, the payout to Dee after he stepped down amounted to five years worth of health benefits, or $55,938. It's spelled out in one of two retirement deals worth $285,102.73 in all — above and beyond his normal salary — that Dee secured in 2012 and 2015 as part of his departure. The Standard-Examiner received copies of the documents following a public records request.
The six retiring elected officials who have received the payout — former Commissioners Matt Bell, Jan Zogmaister, Kerry Gibson and James Ebert; former County Attorney Dee Smith; and former Sheriff Terry Thompson — have said little about the benefit. Thompson said soon after news emerged last month that he was in line to get a payout that he viewed it as an earned benefit after 30 years in law enforcement. But he has not said anything publicly since then, while the other five have not responded to queries seeking comment.
Dee, though, said the notion of allowing cash payouts to eligible retiring county workers instead of continuing health coverage emerged as a point of debate among commissioners near the end of his 40-year tenure with the county. Dee, also a former member of the Utah House, started with the county in 1976 as director of emergency services.
"That was the discussion among the commissioners," Dee said. He favored the idea, viewing it as costing less to the county over the long haul.
In the end, however, Commissioners Bell, Zogmaister and Gibson approved a policy in 2014 allowing for the monetary payouts, but only for departing elected officials with at least four years of service. And unlike other county employees, who had to be employed with the county since before 2008 to tap the five years of health benefits available to them, the provision applicable to elected officials did not contain such a date restriction.
Dee sidestepped questions about the fact that the ability to get payouts in lieu of health coverage applied only to elected officials, not others. That was the call of commissioners when they set the policy, he said. Together, the six former officials who have received payouts in lieu of health care have received $366,564.28, a figure that rises to $422,502.28 with the payout to Dee.
As for his own 2012 and 2015 retirement packages, the focus of a 2016 Standard-Examiner report, Dee noted that the latter deal came after he had indicated that he wanted to retire. County commissioners at the time "said, 'Whoa, we're in the middle of all this stuff,'" Dee said.
Commissioners wanted him to stay on board for a year or so to aid in reorganizing county government and management of the Ogden Eccles Conference Center, among other things. Thus the 2015 retirement agreement was crafted, aimed at inducing him to stay on board. It contained the provision providing him with the monetary equivalent of five years of health benefits, or $55,938, as well as another provision giving him $57,103.20 in incentive pay.
The 2012 retirement package, crafted as county leaders were reorganizing the government bureaucracy to in part reduce the number of department heads, called for payment of $172,061.53 to Dee, reflecting his accrued sick leave balance and part of his vacation leave balance. Per a separate 2015 county commission memo, Dee received another $24,482.02, reflecting the value of additional grandfathered vacation time, according to the Weber County Human Resources Department.
In all, Dee received $309,584.75 in payments per the two retirement agreements and the 2015 memo. On top of that, Dee's salary and wages in 2014, 2015 and 2016, his last three full years on the job, ranged from around $171,000 to $209,000 per year, according to figures maintained by the Utah Division of Finance and Utah Transparency Advisory Board.