OGDEN — Weber County administrative services director Brad Dee has received two early retirement packages, is now collecting on his legislative retirement, and stands to begin earning more retirement funds if he is elected to the county commission.
Because Utah elected officials are exempt from the state’s restrictions against retirement double-dipping by public employees, Dee — a seven-term House member from Washington Terrace — has been eligible for multiple taxpayer-funded retirement sources.
After Dee, 65, announced in March he would leave the Legislature and run for commission this year, questions arose about the details of his county employment heading into the election season.
The longtime Weber County department head and veteran elected official has benefited from three retirement packages, according to public records and interviews with Dee and others:
In 2012, the county commission offered early retirement packages to Dee, then human resources director, and other department heads. Dee’s deal granted him an early retirement payout over two years, including compensation for up to 600 hours of vacation and sick leave, deposited into his 401k account. The agreement also allowed him to keep working as human resources director until Jan. 1, 2016.
In summer 2015, the county reorganized its management structure. Several department heads took early retirement offers and left county employment. The commission named Dee to a new position, administrative services director, and offered him a new retirement package. It included a payment computed by half of his current salary multiplied by years of service. Two-thirds of his accrued sick leave and vacation was paid into his 401k and the other third was cashed out. The deal allows him to stay on the job until he completes several assignments assigned by the commission.
Dee is not running for re-election to the Legislature and has begun collecting legislative retirement, about $300 per month.
County commissioners and other county employees receive retirement contributions based on a flat percentage of their salary rates, Dee said. If he is elected to the commission, he would begin receiving those benefits in addition to the other benefits already received.
Dee said early retirement packages are commonplace for public employees. And he said he has only two retirement funds: His 401k account and the legislative defined benefit payments.
“I’m no different than anyone else,” he said. “This is no different than any other department head. I get so frustrated because there’s not a side being told. What do you want me to do? I bring a lot of expertise to the county.”
Dee offered to provide in-depth details of county retirement plans, including for department heads. “I want to be as transparent about this as I possibly can be,“ he said.
UTAH’S DOUBLE-DIPPING BATTLES
Controversies about public employee retirements have been raging in Utah for years, providing some context to the interest in Dee’s situation.
The Legislature in 2011 passed a law shutting down the trend of “retirement in place” by police chiefs and other highly paid public employees. Before that crackdown, an official could take early retirement, then be immediately rehired, triggering the buildup of a second retirement program.
Just this year, opponents of double-dipping beat down another attempt to bring it back.
Former Sen. Dan Liljenquist of Davis County, leader of the 2011 double-dipping ban, said in an email to a legislative colleague in February this year that former Ogden Police Chief Jon Greiner provided a vivid example of double-dipping during its heyday.
“One of the reasons Ogden City has a 48 percent of salary contribution rate to cover public safety workers’ pensions costs is because their old police chief used double-dipping more aggressively than any other municipality in the state,” Liljenquist said.
In an interview, Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, faulted earlier legislatures for allowing the double-dipping phenomenon, which pushed state and local retirement budgets beyond fiscal reason.
“Once we opened that door, everyone wanted in on the action,” he said. “It was an unsustainable path benefitting a few elite senior retirees and harming everyone else in the system. It created a logjam of promotions. You had people taking in a full retirement plus a full salary.”
But when they ended double-dipping in 2011, legislators exempted elected officials and judges.
“We didn’t want to say that anyone who has retired from the state saying they couldn’t run for public office,” Weiler said. “The exception is good policy because otherwise we would be treating an elected official like a convicted criminal.”
Weiler estimated there are at least several other officials around the state who have worked for local, county or state agencies, drawn retirement there, and been elected to public office, gaining an additional retirement source.
’IT WILL BE UP TO THE VOTERS’
Of a perception that Dee’s multiple-source public retirement maybe be considered beyond the norm, Weiler said, “It will be up to the voters. Dee’s not running unopposed. I suppose it’s fair game, but the cost to the taxpayer is the same” whether Dee or someone else is elected to the commission.
Weiler said he doubted voters are all that interested about public employee retirements anyway.
“I’ve been chairman of the Senate retirement committee, and when I’m talking about it, most people roll their eyes and are drifting off. I don’t think it’s a burning issue.”
Dee said commissioners asked him to stay on the job after last year’s reorganization to head key projects, including the county taking over management of the Ogden Eccles Conference Center and Egyptian Theater; adding a paramedic unit to the northwest area of the county; and coordinating an effort to bring the county’s social services and physical health operations under one roof.
All but the health project have been completed. Dee said he plans to leave his county job as soon as possible, especially with the election campaign heating up.
“With all of his expertise, he could easily get another job, for a lot of money too,” Weiler said. “It’s not as if county commissioners are that well paid, if the voters would hire him for that job.”
Dee said if elected he would work to create a rainy-day fund for the county. It would provide a vital cushion for the strapped local government, he said
“Our budget right now is shrinking. Sales taxes are shrinking dramatically, no one wants to raise property taxes, income taxes are level. The counties are really struggling right now.”
Dee said he is vexed about recent speculation that he and Commissioner Matthew Bell have colluded to switch places — Bell running for Dee’s legislative post and Dee campaigning for Bell’s commission spot.
“That is 180 degrees off,” he said. The reason I’m running for the county commission is because I can do better. I think I can fix or help fix these things the county is facing.
“To think that there was a collusion really frustrates me. When I first thought I might run for commission I fully thought I would be running against the incumbent commissioner (Bell).”
Reporters Cathy McKitrick, Leia Larsen and Mark Saal contributed to this story.
You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 801 625-4224.