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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Official’s hours may be adjusted

HUDSON – The number of hours worked by Assistant Town Administrator Mark Pearson are up for discussion tonight among selectmen, the talks stemming from proposed changes in the state retirement system.

Town administrator Steve Malizia said the selectmen could move to adjust Pearson’s weekly hours from 35 to 32, effectively cutting Pearson’s total allowed work days each year from 230 to about 208.

The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Hudson town offices.

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

Discussion among Hudson selectmen about Pearson coincides with the buzz in Concord about changing the state retirement system to stop so-called “double dippers” from collecting pensions while working nearly full time.

Gov. John Lynch vetoed a reform bill this month that would have limited the hours a part-time town employee can work while also collecting a pension. He chose to veto the bill because the legislators had further changes in mind, Lynch said, and he didn’t want to enact a bill that was not finished in the Statehouse.

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. It’s unclear if he will take a pay cut if his hours are reduced.

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

Selectman Roger Coutu said the board was aware that Pearson was already receiving a pension from the Salem Police Department when he applied to be Hudson’s town administrator, but it was not a factor in his application.

“I never gave a thought to ‘double dipping,’” Coutu said. “To me, I have a problem with that terminology.

“I just feel that if a person is productive and they can continue working, it’s not ‘double dipping.’ It’s taking advantage of your youth and time to be productive.”

Selectman Ben Nadeau said he asked the pension question specifically when the town interviewed Pearson, and selectmen were told it “wasn’t a conflict.”

Asked if his opinion on Pearson working for the town has changed since he started, Nadeau said, “I don’t wish to comment on that part.”

Coutu was more direct and said the pension does not affect his opinion of Pearson either way.

“My opinion of his working for the town hasn’t changed,” Coutu said. “This is not an endorsement of Mark Pearson, I just think he should be treated a little more fairly.”

Both Coutu and Nadeau alluded to problems in the system.

“I think it’s broken and it needs to be fixed, the whole retirement system,” Nadeau said. “I don’t know how they can do it fair and equitably, but hopefully our representatives do a good job in working that out soon.”

Coutu offered a “simple solution” to fix the system.

“I understand how the retirement system is strapped financially, and it’s a quagmire for them to solve that, but the simple solution is to raise the retirement age,” he said.

Selectmen Rick Maddox, Thaddeus Luszey and Shawn Jasper did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Cameron Kittle can be reached at 594-6523 or ckittle@nashuatelegraph.com; also check out Cameron Kittle (@Telegraph_CK) on Twitter.