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Linda Thomas
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By the end of 2009, three veteran managers at Lakewood Fire District 2 earned salaries that topped $175,000 annually _ more than Seattle's fire chief, who was overseeing a department roughly 10 times as large.(Flikr photo, Lakewood Fire District #2 Engine 24)

Pension spiking - no wonder city, state budgets are a mess

We know it happens with executives getting ready to retire. Their salaries are bumped up significantly during their last three years on the job so they'll end up with a nice pension.

It happens with public employees in the State of Washington quite often, according to an investigation from Mike Baker with The Associated Press office in Seattle.

I'm posting a link to the first of three special reports because I don't want you to miss this important investigation. I'll add links to his reports from Monday and Tuesday as well.

Here is the beginning of Mike Baker's report:

By the end of 2009, three veteran managers at Lakewood Fire District 2 earned salaries that topped $175,000 annually - more than Seattle's fire chief, who was overseeing a department roughly 10 times as large.

Their pay would soon grow even bigger, if only temporarily.

Just four days before Michael McGovern and Greg Hull were set to retire, their annual salaries jumped by more than $17,000 each, in part due to a late contract addendum. Bob Bronoske got a similar increase just 13 weeks before he departed, putting each of their compensation rates around $200,000.

The last-minute pay raises cost taxpayers in the Tacoma suburb for only a brief time. In the long run, however, they may end up draining a state-run pension plan of $1 million or more since the adjustments boosted each of the men's lifetime retirement payments by about $1,000 per month.

Bronoske and McGovern retired in their mid-50s, and each is now drawing more than $150,000 in pension payments every year.

Hull's pension is $184,000 annually. He has separately taken a job as the fire chief in the small city of DuPont - hired as a "contractor" in a way that doesn't disrupt his retirement payments - bringing his total current compensation to over $300,000.

Lakewood's case is not an isolated one in Washington, according to a two-year Associated Press investigation that included more than 100 interviews, 94 public records requests and a review of thousands of pages of government emails, meeting notes, contracts, actuarial reports and payroll records along with more than 30 government datasets.

Responding to AP's findings, former State Auditor Brian Sonntag said local officials and retirees involved in the pre-retirement raises show a clear disregard for what is right.

"They're thumbing their nose at colleagues - the people who follow the rules - as well as the public," Sonntag said.

Read part 1:

Late pay raises spike Washington pension benefits

Part 2:

Lavish Washington medial plan for retirees imperils local budgets

Part 3:

Disabilities plague Washington retirees, even golfers

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About Linda
Linda is the morning news anchor and features reporter for KIRO Radio. This is her local news blog, with an emphasis on social media, technology, Northwest companies, education, parenting, and anything else that grabs her attention.

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