Monday, January 07, 2013

Irreplaceable Ken Johnson? Not at that price!

I was speaking with a friend today who — apropos of an acquaintance who, reluctant to challenge a workplace bully chose instead to reward to reward his nastiness — was musing over the consequences of yielding to bad behavior. We seemed to agree that the culture of an environment suffers when bad behavior goes unpunished.

We had barely finished our chat when the news arrived that Cleveland City Council members had agreed in caucus to re-appoint Ken Johnson to the $74,000-a-year Ward 4 council seat he had resigned just last week. The move, regarded as unprecedented for a city councilman, makes Johnson a double-dipper: he will resuming collecting his councilman’s wage even as he begins to draw down his retirement benefits from his three-plus decades of “public service”.

[Some wags, mindful of Johnson’s less-than-stellar attendance record at council committees, might see this as triple-dipping, on the theory that Johnson was already semi-retired.]

Johnson had resigned because of a change in state law that would have reduced his pension benefits had he chosen to retire anytime after December 31.
Ken "I'm Mr. Irreplaceable" Johnson

While I think double dipping is a practice best restricted to very special circumstances if not banned outright, it is state law and Johnson has taken advantage of it. Given his me-first request, there was little doubt a majority of his fellow council members would support it, no doubt empathizing with his situation.

Johnson is now having his cake and eating it too, in full view of those who pay for the ingredients, bake it, serve it, and clean up afterwards. Most of them struggle to afford even the crumbs of such munificence.

The part that bothers me most is that some of these elected officials seem to think they are indispensable. The reality is that Cleveland would function just as well if Johnson were in his own rocking chair instead of the public one from which he purports to render leadership on behalf of its constituents. Faced with a choice between finding a worthy successor and feathering his nest, he looked in the mirror and cried, “Me!”

What's next, declaring himself Mr. Ward 4 Emeritus?

Respect for the councilman and his colleagues took a sharp hit when Council sanctioned this bit of selfishness. Let’s hope he doesn’t compound this insult and injury by standing for reelection.


Dick Peery said...

Richard--You said everything except what they did wrong. Yes, it was clumsy, but anyone who hits 65 can draw Social Security and a private pension and keep working. PERS participants have to jump through special hoops to do the same thing, but so what?
Criticism of double dippers seems to be based on the false assumption that they are drawing on taxpayer receipts that could be otherwise used to provide public services. Wrong. Money in the public retirement fund is part of the compensation that employees earn as they work, just like their salaries. It is theirs, not the public’s. So why shouldn’t access it, just like everyone else?
There maybe a lot of good reasons to jump on Ken Johnson, and overwhelming ones for criticizing council, but this frivolous diversion is not one of them.

Richard said...


I think you know I am in agreement with Roldo here. I believe there is such a thing as the public trust, and that Johnson's action, and that of his colleagues, violated that trust.
Contrast what happened in Cleveland Council with what Roy Jech did over in Parma when confronted with the exact same situation. He left the decision up to his constituents.
I think public officials have a higher duty to refrain from even APPEARING to violate public trust.
Further, Johnson is not indispensable to his ward. Our community cannot develop if tired politicians hang on simply on the basis of name. Johnson has a rep for excellent constituent service but he's been mostly a cipher as far as civic leadership is concerned. He should be embarrassed to defend his selfish maneuver by citing the fact that a building was named after him.

LaMont said...

Dick, your comment only views one side of the situation in that while his pension is actually derived from the pension fund that he did indeed pay into, his ongoing current salary 'does' come from taxpayer dollars that could be better served