Lawmakers seeking to change pension rule told to write a letter

Six legislators hoping to ask a state retirement panel – in person – to effectively rewrite municipal retirement rules in a way Gov. Dannel P. Malloy prevented last month – will have to settle for writing a letter.

State Employees Retirement Commission Chairman Peter Adomeit informed the legislators, five Democrats and one Republican, that their appearance would constitute an improper intervention in a specific retirement case that’s been the focus of partisan debate for more than two years.

But the legislators, located along Connecticut’s south-central shoreline, insisted Thursday they aren’t trying to intervene in any specific case. Rather, they said, they want the commission to ensure that municipal pension recipients are free to pursue work in other communities without delaying or suspending their pension payments.

Currently, retirees receiving a pension through the Municipal Employees Retirement System – which is administered by the state – cannot continue to do so if they go back to work more than 20 hours per week or 90 days per year in any other city or town that participates in the system. A bill passed last spring, but vetoed by the governor, would have ended that restriction.

The prohibition against this practice, legislators added, also harms many communities that could save on training costs and otherwise benefit from the experience of veteran workers.

“These people are not double-dipping,” said Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford. “They worked very hard, often doing hazardous duty. They earned a pension. And now they want to keep working.”

“This could save municipalities hundreds of thousands of dollars in training costs,” said Rep. Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford. “It allows for them to hire people who are already trained in a field.”

“This was always about taking a broader look at the policy,” added Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, who also serves as her community’s first selectwoman.

And while retirees from public safety positions are the most common examples cited, municipal retirees with backgrounds in public works, property assessment, tax collection and other posts could be valuable assets in another community besides the one from which they retired, she said.

Osten, Scanlon and Candelora were joined by Democratic Sens. Ted Kennedy Jr. of Branford and Joseph Crisco of Orange and Democratic Rep. Lonnie Reed of Branford in writing to Adomeit and asking to make a presentation to the commission at its Aug. 20 meeting.

Those six lawmakers also were major advocates for the bill that would have ended this prohibition against municipal retirees going back to work in local government. The measure unanimously cleared the House and Senate last spring, only to run into a  Malloy veto on July 2.

“I believe this bill would impose an undue burden on municipalities and is inconsistent with the purpose of the municipal retirement system, which is intended to provide assistance to our retirees and not current employees,” the governor wrote in his veto message.

Malloy’s office did not comment Thursday.

But Adomeit said Wednesday that while the commission is a quasi-judicial entity with the authority to make declaratory rulings, it is not a simple matter of whether to allow lawmakers to make a presentation at the Aug. 20 meeting.

The commission already is scheduled at that meeting to reconsider a controversial case involving longtime Democratic Party activist Marilynn Cruz-Aponte.

Cruz-Aponte receives a pension for her work in New Britain city government, but also had been receiving a salary from 2013 through early 2015 for serving as an assistant to the Hartford public works director.

The commission originally determined Cruz-Aponte could receive both, but then reversed itself this past February.

Cruz-Aponte wrote to the commission in May and asked to have her case reconsidered again.

Legislators said this decision is expected to affect at least 25 other municipal retirees who have found re-employment, if not more.

And while legislators also said they have no position on Cruz-Aponte’s case – or any other specific case – Adomeit said their comments, if allowed, could be seen as a violation of commission rules and as an improper intervention in Cruz-Aponte’s case.

“There is no question that the legal issue affecting retirees is of importance to the petitioning legislators and their constituents,” Adomeit wrote in a ruling Wednesday in which he denied the lawmakers’ request to speak at the Aug. 20 meeting. “But the issue is no longer in the legislative arena. More than being interested in the issue is required before they may be parties to the proceeding under our regulations.”

Commission rules require any party seeking to intervene in a case to apply in writing at least 45 days in advance, while the legislators’ request was made just this week.

Also, Adomeit wrote, petitioners must “set forth facts demonstrating that the petitioner’s legal rights, duties or privileges will be specifically affected by the declaratory ruling to be issued.”

Legislators are allowed, though, to submit written comments to the commission, Adomeit said, and Scanlon said he was uncertain whether he and his colleagues would take that route.

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