By Ed Runyan
Double the usual number of Trumbull County and Niles workers took retirement in 2012, while only a few more did so in Warren after changes in benefits provided by the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System.
The 68 retirements among county workers is double the usual number, said Adrian Biviano, Trumbull County auditor.
The four retirements in Niles are more than double the normal number in Niles, said Mayor Ralph Infante. Usually the city has only about one per year, he said.
The number of 2012 retirements is 11, but that is only one or two more than would be expected without changes in the retirement system, said Brian Massucci, Warren human resources director.
Biviano and county Commissioner Frank Fuda said they believe the higher number of county employees taking retirement this year resulted from the change to the cost-of-living-adjustment implemented for 2013 by the Ohio Legislature in September.
Instead of a flat 3 percent annual increase in retirement pay, members of OPERS instead will get an adjustment based on the Consumer Price Index.
Biviano said he believes the increase will be closer to 1 percent in 2013, so employees retiring now made a “good move” by “locking in” the 3 percent increase “for a while.”
Biviano says “for a while” because he believes the state will find the 3 percent increases to be too expensive to keep for long and will change it.
Biviano had several workers take retirement in 2011 who believed changes in the OPERS laws would take place sooner than they did, Biviano said.
As for the loss of twice as many workers as usual, Biviano said most county departments “don’t have much backup,” so managers have to continually retrain so that someone will be ready to step forward to take the job of those leaving.
Biviano said he’s not in favor of retired employees coming back to work in their former job after they retire, only brief returns if necessary to help train a replacement.
He also said he doesn’t disagree with someone coming to work for the county after retirement if the new job is different from his or her old one.
One example is Atty. James Misocky, who the county commissioners hired last month to work as special-projects administrator. He will make $49,525 annually in a role that will focus on several large-scale projects commissioners are attempting to carry out in the coming months.
Misocky was former chief of the civil division of the Trumbull County Prosecutor’s office.
The man who took Misocky’s former job at the prosecutor’s office, Atty. Jim Saker, retired this year. Saker is also a Howland Township trustee.
But it’s up to each elected official to decide whether he or she will allow retired workers to earn retirement pay and a regular paycheck, Biviano said, adding that he knows of at least two elected officials who have allowed workers to come back after retirement.
In Niles, that is not an issue because Niles does not allow nonmanagement employees to return to work after retirement, Mayor Infante said.
In Warren, nothing would prevent a worker from returning to his or her old job after retirement except a 1984 ordinance that prohibits anyone from working more than 20 hours per week for the city after retirement.
Massucci said he doesn’t recall any Warren worker returning to city employment after retirement in the 19 years he has worked in the human resources office.
Recently it was learned that two Warren elected officials, Law Director Greg Hicks and Auditor David Griffing, each filed a letter with the Trumbull County Board of Elections in mid-2011 indicating they intended to retire at the end of 2011.
Neither Hicks nor Griffing could be reached to comment on whether they did retire or whether the city’s 20-hour per week limit has affected their ability to remain in office. Both were re-elected to 4-year terms in November 2011.
In addition to Hicks and Griffing, other elected officials who declared their intent to retire are Infante, Sheriff Thomas Altiere, Prosecutor Dennis Watkins, county Commissioner Dan Polivka, Family Court Judge Pam Rintala, Common Pleas Court Judge W. Wyatt McKay and Warren Municipal Court Judge Thomas Gysegem.
Gysegem said he doesn’t know whether the city’s 20-hour limit would apply to him or other elected officials.
In 2007, Judge Gysegem filed a letter with the Trumbull County Board of Elections stating that he had “23 years of contributing public service.” That year, he was elected to what he called in the letter his “final 6-year term” on Warren Municipal Court, which ends Dec. 31, 2013.
Enzo Cantalamessa, Warren safety-service director, said he would have no comment on how the policy would affect elected officials because their employment would be “outside of my authority.” He doesn’t supervise elected officials or their employees, he said.
Councilwoman Helen Rucker said she doesn’t know if the 1984 ordinance applies to elected officials, but she thinks it should.
“That ordinance is in effect. I think they ought to abide by it,” she said. Rucker said she’s going to inquire as to whether any of Warren’s elected officials have retired.
Further, she wonders how the ordinance will ever be enforced.
“I think council should be informed when someone retires,” she said.
Retirement for a public employee earning about $100,000 per year in his three highest-paid years with 30 years of service would get an annual retirement of about $66,000 plus benefits such as health care.