OGDEN —Weber County commissioners tabled action on former Weber County Sheriff Terry Thompson’s request for a cash payout of nearly $52,000, per a controversial retirement benefit for elected officials that faced scrutiny last August.
And there are rumblings by at least one commissioner, Gage Froerer, of doing away with the perk altogether.
“I think it’s an unfair policy for the taxpayers in Weber County,” Froerer said at Tuesday’s Weber County Commission meeting, where the topic came up for debate. “I look at the taxpayers in this county that struggle every year to pay property taxes, and to see these huge payouts, quite frankly, is unfair. It’s terrible policy.”
Froerer, who took office in January, after the policy was created, called for the payout provision to be “discontinued now and forever.” For now, though, commissioners tabled action and a county legal advisor will determine if commissioners are legally obliged to honor the policy allowing for the sort of payout Thompson seeks.
The policy in question allows elected officials who took office before Jan. 1 this year to get a lump-sum payment of five years worth of medical benefits after they step down. A prior slate of commissioners crafted the original policy in 2014 and, per changes approved last August by a new slate of commissioners scaling it back, it is to be phased out by the end of 2026.
Thompson is in line to get $51,898.60 per the policy, the focus of the commissioners’ discussion Tuesday. But four others have gotten it before him, most recently Kerry Gibson after he stepped down as county commissioner last June. James Ebert, whose term as county commissioner ended last January, would also be able to tap into the benefit along with seven other elected county leaders still in office, depending on when they step down.
Sarah Swan, Weber County’s human resources director, had initially indicated that commissioners were bound to honor requests for payouts from those eligible to get them. Anyone in elective office when commissioners tweaked the policy last August “is still allowed what was promised to them when they took office,” she said Tuesday.
Commissioner Scott Jenkins echoed Swan’s sentiments.
But Christopher Crockett, the deputy Weber County attorney, countered, saying the county is not on the hook until officials ink a contract agreeing to make a payout to an eligible retiree.
“There might be an expectation among elected officials that this could be a benefit. But benefits, I’ve seen them change all the time,” Crockett said. “There really is not a vested right and a legally enforceable right until there is an actual contract in place.”
Froerer, a former member of the Utah House, said that when he was a state lawmaker, officials would change policies from year to year to benefit taxpayers. “The current policy is in no way in the best interests of the taxpayers. It benefits very few. It’s voted on by those that it benefits,” Froerer said.
Thompson, who retired last January after two terms as sheriff and 30 years in law enforcement, had said Monday that he was pursuing the payout, in part, because it is allowed in county policy. He is out of state and did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, but afterward, by phone, said he expects county leaders will “do the right thing.”
The rationale for allowing the payout isn’t spelled out in county policy documents. Swan said last August that she suspects those who crafted it may have seen it as a mechanism to help departing elected officials as they transition back to the private sector after leaving office.
Froerer, though, painted the scenario of a departing official taking a payout and then immediately getting another job.
“For somebody to take a $60,000-plus payout on Monday and the next day go to work for a state agency or any agency that pays their insurance quite frankly boggles my mind. I can’t accept that for the taxpayers in Weber County,” he said.
Gibson received a $64,494.60 payment last June after he announced plans to leave his county commission seat to take deputy director post with the Utah Department of Natural Resources. The others who have received it are former county commissioners Matthew Bell ($65,529.60) and Jan Zogmaister ($53,852.25) and Dee Smith ($66,293.83), a former county attorney.
Incumbent elected officials potentially in line to get it, depending on when they leave office, are Jenkins and fellow County Commissioner Jim Harvey, Clerk-Auditor Ricky Hatch, County Attorney Christopher Allred, County Assessor John Ulibarri, County Treasurer John Bond and Leann Kilts, the county recorder/surveyor.