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Correspondent photo by Bruce Preston

Brookline Police Chief Bill Quigley III started his position on Monday, October 26th. Quigley says that the patrol officers are the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the department and he looks forward to developing an environment of community policing within the town.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

5. Brookline Police Chief’s double dipping spotlighted

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Telegraph will run the 10 biggest local stories of 2011 in the paper during the next several days.

BROOKLINE – When the town of Brookline hired William Quigley III as the new police chief, officials said they found the man they wanted for the job.

However, the contract listed him as the “full-time” police chief and Quigley is a retired state trooper who collects a pension from the state retirement system. By law, he was prevented from working full time while collecting a pension and had to take a part-time position, as many state retirees had done before him.

The town quickly changed his contract to read “part-time” and Quigley was allowed to work up to 39½ hours and still be considered part time.

Meanwhile, in the Legislature, lawmakers were hotly debating how to reform the state retirement system to limit the number of employees who were collecting a pension and working in a nearly full-time capacity – a practice not so affectionately known as double dipping.

One lawmaker called the practice of double dipping a “mini epidemic,” especially among police and firefighters who are allowed to retire early enough to extend their careers by another two decades, while still working in the public sector and taking from the retirement system.

The practice of double dipping can seem advantageous for a town who hires a retiree. Town officials get a highly qualified candidate, they don’t have to pay into the retirement system any longer and don’t have to pay for health benefits, which also are provided by the retirement system.

It’s good for the retiree, too. On top of a salary, they have a pension, often exceeding $150,000 or more per year in annual earnings from both sources.

But economic forecasts for the retirement system says it didn’t have enough money to cover its financial obligations to all its retirees, and double dippers weren’t helping. Second, hiring retired employees can block younger qualified employees who would otherwise take the job on a full-time basis.

In 2011, the Legislature eventually changed the retirement system rules to limit part-time workers to 32 hours a week. Quigley withdrew from the retirement system and is now officially Brookline’s full-time police chief, putting the double-dipping issues behind him.

But that didn’t stop other towns from doing nearly the same thing.

In Amherst, selectmen hired one of their own, Jim O’Mara, to be the next town administrator. When he got the job, he retired as superintendent of the Hillsborough County jail.

He is able to legally double dip – work full time in Amherst while collecting his state pension – because Amherst has its own retirement system, which is separate from the state system.

O’Mara replaced Gary MacGuire, who became the town administrator after retiring as the town’s police chief. He collected a state pension while working as the full-time administrator in Amherst.

On top of all this, pensioners were once able to protect their pension amounts from the public eye, as the New Hampshire Retirement System argued that releasing such information was an invasion of a retiree’s privacy. In 2011, the state’s highest court said the pensions should be made public. The retirement system first released the top 500 pensioners and then all pensioners and how much they made. The information revealed that MacGuire was among the state’s top 100 pensioners for 2010, the most recent year data was available, collecting $80,608 in pension on top of his salary from the town of Amherst.

The data also showed the one of the state’s top pensioners – at No. 17 – was the assistant town administrator in Hudson, Mark Pearson.

In 2010, Pearson, a retired Salem police officer, took home $102,618 from the retirement system. That was on top of the $91,611 he was paid for working up to 36 hours a week in Hudson. (In 2011, Pearson was limited to 32 hours a week, or 208 8-hour days, and his pay was cut back to $82,851.)

Pearson’s income from the two publicly funded sources make him one of the highest paid public servants in the state, banking more than $180,000 a year and far more than Gov. John Lynch.