Monday, November 23, 2009

Is "Double Dipping" in Alabama a Crime for both Democrats and Republicans?

Republicans in Alabama have made a crusade out of "double dipping," which is commonly defined as taking two incomes from the same source--and seems to be particularly troubling when Democrats do it.

With the help of Bush-appointed U.S. attorney Alice Martin, Republicans crowed after the prosecution and conviction of Alabama Rep. Sue Schmitz (D-Toney) on corruption charges that amounted to double dipping.

So isn't it interesting to learn that Republican Governor Bob Riley and his administration have themselves been engaging in double dipping? For good measure, the story has connections to the controversial $13-million no-bid contract Riley approved for Paragon Source, a Virginia company with no headquarters, business address, or Web site.

Will double dipping be considered a crime now that Republicans have been caught red-handed at it? Stay tuned.

In the kind of hard-hitting journalism that is all too rare in Alabama, Bob Lowry of The Huntsville Times reports that Riley's former finance director brought a state employee out of retirement to work on a contract basis while she also drew a pension. Writes Lowry:

Gov. Bob Riley has campaigned vigorously against the practice called "double dipping," commonly defined as receiving two incomes from the same source, such as a government job and a government pension.
Riley apparently wasn't so concerned about double dipping when his own finance director, Jim Main, was doing it--paying a former state employee $60,000 a year while she collected a pension of about $30,000. Reports Lowry:
Main rehired the employee, Sandra Porter, under a contract with Auburn University Montgomery. After a year she began working for Paragon Source, a company that had a $6 million no-bid, sole-source contract to work on the Finance Department's computer system. She has since returned to the state payroll, receiving $66,000 a year.

Porter in 2007 received $58,275 from the AUM contract and $30,516 from her state pension. During her 34-plus years of state service the average of her highest three years of salary was $34,724, according to the Retirement Systems of Alabama.

Had she returned to work as a regular state employee she would not have been allowed to collect her state pension benefits.

What does the Porter deal make Riley look like? Can we say "hypocrite"?

(Porter's) hiring under the AUM contract appears to conflict with Riley's 2006 campaign promise to fight double dipping. He complained about legislators working in two-year community colleges, drawing pay both as lawmakers and state employees.

Neither Main, appointed by Riley in May to a vacant seat on the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, nor Porter returned phone calls seeking comment.

What do you know? Main now serves as a state judge, but he apparently engaged in the same behavior that was considered criminal when a Democrat did it. No wonder Main didn't want to return phone calls.

A Riley spokesman tried to spin the story, saying the Main-Porter deal was not double dipping. But Lowry did not seem to be buying it:

Jeff Emerson, Riley's chief spokesman, said Main's hiring of Porter is not double dipping because she had earned her retirement benefits.

"Actual double dipping is when an elected official holds two or more taxpayer-funded jobs and faces potential conflicts of interests or can't devote needed time to each job," he said. "Being retired isn't a job, and merely receiving retirement benefits isn't a conflict of interests."

Double dipping, however, is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary of Business Terms as: "Working for wages while receiving pension benefits from the same organization." Other dictionaries offer similar definitions.

Where does Paragon Source and its mysterious CEO, Janet Lauderdale, fit into the equation? Under the AUM contract, Porter worked for Andy Hornsby, then deputy finance director. But that changed. Writes Lowry:

After the AUM contract expired at the Finance Department, Porter became a subcontractor for 10 months for Paragon Source, which was already working with the department.

During that period, she also continued to draw her state retirement.

Hornsby, who is now retired, said Janet Lauderdale, the CEO of Paragon Source, asked that Porter be placed on Paragon Source's payroll effective Jan. 1, 2008.

According to documents released by the Contract Review Committee, Porter was paid $50an hour with totals of up to $6,680 a month under a Paragon Source contract.

Over 10 months with Paragon Source, Porter received $54,976, according to documents Newton turned over to the Legislature's Contract Review Committee after it questioned Paragon Source's contract with the Finance Department.

During that 10-month period, Porter also received $25,430 in state retirement pay.

It's important to remember that this is not just a matter of Republicans and Democrats throwing political charges at each other. Under the Bush Department of Justice, "double dipping" came to be considered a "crime." Is it a crime now?

At least one Alabama Democrat seems to be thinking along those lines:

Sen. Quinton Ross Jr., D-Montgomery, director of adult education at Trenholm State Technical College in Montgomery and one of the Riley administration's targets, said the Porter case "shows how hypocritical this administration has been about certain issues."

"With people closely associated with the administration, it (double dipping) doesn't apply," he said. "It's only applicable outside the realm of the administration."

1 comment:

Itoldyouso said...

I think Riley should be convicted and put away. He is trying to take attention off this by playing the BINGO thing in Alabama..if attention is put on something else then people won't notice what he is taking or beating the Taxpayers out of.I say to you Sir ..get what you can on him...Alabama don't want him here,he's washed up.