Venice Gondolier

City manager: Commit a crime, lose your pension

City Manager Marty Black was shocked while watching a news report out of the Tampa area a while back.

A Hillsborough County fire marshal was found guilty of trying to meet a child for sex while on duty. Today he sits in jail for a felony conviction, collecting retirement benefits.

Now the county fire department, Hillsborough County commissioners and firefighters union are fighting over whether convicted felons are entitled to their government pension plans.

Black wants to make sure nothing like that happens here.

"If we've got folks who commit felony acts, it would seem odd to pay for (their retirement)," Black said.

A memo asking if Venice would have to do that was sent out last week to City Attorney Bob Anderson and Brenda Digges, director of administrative services.

Because of vacations, Black is still waiting on an answer.

The city manager definitely wants to restrict the retirement benefits of any current employee who is convicted, but the memo also asks about doing this to former employees.

"I am aware that it is possible to structure the retirement benefit program so that upon conviction, current and former employees would be determined ineligible for retirement benefits," Black wrote in the May 20 memo.

No connection

When interviewed, Black denied that this request has anything to do with a criminal investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency into actions by previous wastewater department managers. City council approved a plea agreement in which Venice will assist federal prosecutors in their case against former or current employees.

Besides, it is unclear if a change in the benefit rules could be applied to employees no longer with the city, Black said.

No names have been officially released, but Black has said no current city employee or elected official is under investigation for criminal charges. The entire wastewater department management team was fired last August in a cost-cutting move, which also paved the way to replace the beleaguered supervisors with a private management company.

Venice has only had its own retirement system since 1996, according to Public Information Officer Pam Johnson.

"I saw the chaos going on north of us, and that's what triggered this in my mind," Black said. "Post retirement, I don't know about them. If it happens while employed, we shouldn't have to fund them with the benefits after termination."

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By J.J. Andrews

Assistant Editor