Ken Johnson's Reappointment Strengthens Double-Dipping Practice Locally

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And almost as quickly as he had left the building, Ken Johnson was back. Toothy smile and all.

With hearty slaps on the back from nearly everyone in the room, a Jan. 7 caucus of Cleveland City Council voted to recommend Johnson to fill the Ward 4 vacancy left by Johnson’s own retirement. (The ward wraps around the Woodland Hills and Buckeye Shaker neighborhoods on the east side of town.)

By a vote of 14-3, with council members Dona Brady, Brian Cummins and Mike Polensek dissenting, the road to reappointment was paved with the blood of voter trust - what painfully little there was - and more than a little confusion. Johnson was fully sworn in during the meeting that night.

The vote sets a future precedent for council’s reach beyond the voters.

This sport is called double-dipping and it’s totally copacetic in the state of Ohio. In Johnson’s case, you’re talking a $74,000 salary plus pension benefits that increase alongside cost-of-living calculations. Those built-in adjustments are going to disappear soon per state legislation, so Johnson had to, of course, hurrythefuckup and get his retirement in post haste.

His abrupt limp into retirement and the lazy lean inward toward chummy colleagues and a well worn council seat, riiiight around the influence of the voter, is a spineless move. It’s unclear how much of a dent likely challenger Kesha Parks or any others will make at the polls this November, given the ward’s 33-years-and-running propensity to re-elect Johnson. We shall see.

(City Council has until April 1 to redraw the ward boundaries and drop two of them altogether. There’s no word yet on what that map will look like, but it will certainly change the makeup of council.)

Now, let’s all clap for the theatrics of House Bill 388, the General Assembly’s latest “attempt” to wrangle this bullshit practice in Ohio. House Speaker William Batchelder - with an even toothier grin than Johnson’s - is himself a double-dipper, which goes to show how far regulating legislation may go under his watch.

The bill proposes to wipe out language that permits retirants to return to public office and collect pension benefits while also receiving a paycheck. Under those provisions, any pension funds would be gently set aside for collection upon one’s second retirement. State Rep. Rex Damschroder, a Fremont Republican, introduced the bill in late 2011.

One of the oft-cited perks of double-dipping is the ability to maintain institutional knowledge by keeping longtime employees around for a little less dough. Tepid case in point: the one in four public school leaders who are presently double-dipping in this state. Many typically retire, only to be reappointed for a smaller paycheck. Their knowledge of the district often trumps newcomers who would likely seek bigger bucks.

Problem is, the democratic process governing the likes of council would have one believe that it’s the taxpaying voters who do the hiring and firing. Johnson, seeking no cut in his pay, circumvented his charge.

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