Florida Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos, R-Merrit Island, has announced that three veteran staffers will join his team despite having been hired after state lawmakers decided last year to institute a ban on the ability of public employees to collect state pension checks while also working full time, a practice known as “double dipping.”
Former Department of Agriculture employees Terry Rhodes and Craig Meyer left their positions and waited the 30 days necessary to return to the state’s payroll under the previous version of the law, which expired July 1; the updated law requires former employees to remain off state payrolls for six months. They’ll now have to wait until April 2011 before they can begin collecting pension.
A former clerk of the Florida House, John Phelps, has been retired since 2005 and currently receives over $6,000 a month from the state.
According to the St. Petersburg Times, each will be earning a six-figure salary in their new positions:
- Terry Rhodes, a 30-year veteran of the Department of Agriculture, who will become a special assistant to the president and staff director of the Committee on Ethics and Elections at a salary of $150,000. She will also collect a state pension of $6,448 a month beginning in April and collected $404,657 in deferred compensation when she retired last April.
- John B. Phelps, former House clerk who retired in 2005 and has been working in the Legislative Research Center and Museum, will become staff director of the Senate Rules Committee. He’ll be paid $139,152, the same salary he has been making doing historical research. He collects a monthly pension of $6,260 and collected deferred compensation totaling $350,482 when he retired in 2005.
- Craig Meyer, a former deputy commissioner of agriculture with 26 years of experience in state government, was hired in June to run a new Senate budget office. Meyer was chief of staff for Senate President Bob Crawford 20 years ago. He’s being paid $155,000 a year. He will also collect a $3,588 pension beginning in April and collected $10,688 in deferred compensation this past April.
Sen. Mike Fasano, R-Port Richey, sponsor of the new law designed to curb double dipping, was critical of the decision to put them on the payroll.
“There are plenty of good, hard-working individuals out there who could sure use a job right now,” Fasano said. “We have high unemployment and struggling families. It’s hard to explain this to people like that.”
Criticism has been leveled against Haridopolos before, most notably for working for the University of Florida as a guest lecturer in their Department of Political Science at a starting salary of $75,000, nearly double the $40,000 average for the position. UF faculty and the Democratic Party of Florida cited his lack of academic credentials or input by faculty prior to his hiring, as well as perceived conflict between his obligations as a state senator and an employee of the university.