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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Hudson assistant town administrator on pension, salary limited to 230 days.

HUDSON – At the end of each work week, Mark Pearson’s boss closely reviews his hours.

In his job as assistant town administrator, Pearson can’t work more than 230 eight-hour days per calendar year because, as a retired police officer, he receives a state pension.

If Pearson were to exceed that annual total, he would jeopardize his pension, and the town of Hudson might have to reimburse the state retirement system.

Those conditions of Pearson’s employment were explained by his boss, Town Administrator Steve Malizia, as state lawmakers wrestle with the financial obligations of the retirement system.

Under particular scrutiny by lawmakers are retirees who “double dip” with public funds, working part time for a municipality or school district while also collecting a pension.

Pearson said he doesn’t consider himself a double dipper. Yes, he collects a pension and a salary, but he’s not earning – and he’s not entitled to earn – a second pension by working for the town. There’s a distinction, he said.

Instead of labeling Pearson’s position part time by the number of hours he works each week, Hudson selectmen do so with an annual accumulation of eight-hour days.

A full-time employee works 260 eight-hour days a year, so capping Pearson at 230 eight-hour days each year keeps him qualified as part time and thus still eligible for his pension, Malizia said.

“It was clearly articulated. That was the condition he was being employed under,” Malizia said. “The board realized he was the best candidate … and the board was cognizant of the parameters.”

Pearson retired from the Salem police force in 2007 and qualified for a full pension. Hudson selectmen hired him in 2009 for the assistant administrator job, a part-time position for which he earns $91,611 annually.

Pearson declined to comment on the current debate about pensioners working another public job while receiving retirement benefits. He said his status is “unlike the Brookline situation.”

Brookline Police Chief William Quigley has drawn fire for working up to 39.5 hours a week while collecting a retirement pension. The New Hampshire Retirement System has not voiced any objection to Brookline selectmen and Quigley considering a 39.5-hour work week to be part time.

Pearson said his number of hours and type of scheduling were reviewed by the Board of Selectmen, town counsel and the retirement system upon his hiring. All “terms and conditions” of his employment were approved by NHRS, he said.

Malizia added that within two months of Pearson’s hiring in January 2009, NHRS requested payroll records on him. Malizia said he believed the request was to verify the number of hours Pearson was working.

Asked in March if Hudson’s criteria of Pearson’s hours legitimately qualifies him as a part-time employee, NHRS spokesman Marty Karlon said the retirement system would gather information to review the personnel policies of Hudson. On May 26, Karlon said NHRS hadn’t yet reached a conclusion.

It is not an investigation, Karlon added, but a review to ensure Pearson is part time.

Pearson said he and selectmen fully considered the hours he needed to work to remain compliant with the retirement system’s expectation that he had to be a part-time employee.

“All the cards were on the table, and they reviewed it,” Pearson said of NHRS.

Pearson “can’t work 231 or 232” eight-hour days in a year, Malizia said. He also doesn’t volunteer any hours that would exceed the 230 cap, Malizia said.

If Pearson appears to be working enough hours that would jeopardize the 230-day arrangement, he takes time off, Malizia said.

In 2009, Pearson worked 229.5 eight-hour days; in 2010, he worked exactly 230 eight-hour days, Malizia said.

Pearson usually puts in 40-hour weeks, but some weeks, he will put in eight, 16 or 32 hours to stay under the 230-day limit, Malizia said.

Pearson doesn’t collect any benefits from the town of Hudson other than pay, Malizia said.

He doesn’t have health or life insurance through the town, and he doesn’t receive sick, holiday or vacation pay, Malizia said. Pearson also doesn’t have a contract, he said.

Before landing the job in Hudson, Pearson worked as a captain for Salem police. He served 24 years on the police force.

Pearson took advantage of an early-retirement program that has since been disbanded because lawmakers felt it placed a financial burden on the pension system. The program allowed municipal and state workers to purchase extra years toward retirement, or as the system had called it, “non-qualified service credit.”

Pearson, who was a state representative at the time, bought an extra five years of service – as well as two years of credit based on prior military service – and retired with the equivalent of 31 years of retirement benefits, according to a Lawrence Eagle Tribune story published in May 2007.

“It’s not inexpensive, and it causes you to have to make a major investment,” Pearson said of the early retirement program in the story.

Pearson told the Eagle Tribune that the program was worth it to him, but he understood why many lawmakers thought it was ill-advised to continue allowing the buyouts.

Albert McKeon can be reached at 594-5832 or amckeon@nashuatelegraph.com.