By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org
Hallandale Beach taxpayers quietly coughed up nearly $500,000 in 2009 to settle a complaint by a ranking city official that his bosses had failed to include him in a generous management retirement plan for top city leaders.
BrowardBulldog.org recently obtained a copy of the settlement. It shows that then city manager Mike Good had a confidentiality clause inserted into the agreement in hopes of keeping news about it from the public.
To collect the hefty payout, which he got without having to sue, former Utilities/Sanitation Assistant Director Gordon Dobbins agreed not to contact the media and almost anyone connected with the city and to refrain from making disparaging statements “in perpetuity.”
The city appears to have gotten off cheap.
The cost could have been closer to $1 million if the city had to pay Dobbins for all the benefits it failed to provide him from the time the plan was implemented, and he was eligible to join, in October 2001.
The settlement with Dobbins ended the possibility of a legal battle that could have been both costly and public.
The Dobbins payout case surfaces at a time when the Broward Inspector General’s Office continues to investigate past mismanagement at the city.
TOO GOOD OF A DEAL
Dobbins, a 30-year city employee, worked during a period in which the city offered a lucrative retirement plan to its top managers, a benefits package they withdrew after only six years, in 2007, because of its cost.
The city administration in 2008 told the city commission it would include Dobbins in the lucrative plan, but backed off after discovering the high cost, ranging from $727,000 to $955,000.
Three former city managers who now draw pensions under the management retirement plan offered no explanation for what happened. Randolph J. (RJ) Intindola said he had “no idea” why Dobbins was excluded; Good did not respond to a request for comment; and Mark Antonio said “I no longer work for the city; call the city.”
The Dobbins case illustrates high costs of the plan and what critics say is the city administration’s bungling by overlooking a long-time employee who worked his way up through the ranks.
“This shows how expensive the plan was,” said local activist Csaba Kulin. “It also shows how incompetent the city manager was…for not putting him in” the plan. “This is also indicative of the way the city handles matters, keeping everything quiet and muscling everyone,” Kulin said, referring to the settlement terms that required Dobbins to keep his mouth shut.
CONFIDENTIALITY ‘NOT APPROPRIATE’
Veteran labor attorney Ron Cohen of Miami Lakes questioned the city’s use of a confidentiality clause in the settlement.
“While it’s not illegal, confidentiality is not appropriate when public funds are involved,” Cohen said.
Dobbins was in a management position when the plan was created, but nonetheless remained a participant in the city’s General Employees Retirement Plan.
The city admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement, which suggests the error was inadvertent.
Dobbin’s exclusions meant he did not receive the enhanced retirement benefits under the management plan, including being eligible for full retirement benefits this January at age 52, after 25 years of service.
For example, a city pension calculation in 2008 showed that Dobbins would receive a monthly pension of $6,350 if he were placed in the management plan.
The same analysis stated Dobbins would collect about $3,800 under the General Employees Plan, which provides full benefits at age 60 with 30 years of service.
The settlement, approved by the city commission in a 4-1 vote in August 2009, was labeled as “severance” pay by the city. The dissenting vote came from then city commissioner Keith London.
Under the deal, Dobbins retired from the city effective January 1, 2010 under the general employees plan. Specifically, it called for Dobbins to receive $300,000 in a lump sum, another receive approximately $126,000 in salary for the final quarter of 2009 to be used for pension calculations and $24,000 for unused vacation and sick time. Dobbins will start drawing his city pension in 2021.
City personnel officials would not say how much he would be entitled to. However, the additional salary he received under the settlement will likely raise his monthly pension considerably.
LONG TIME CITY WORKER
Dobbins, who today lives in another state, began his career with the city in June, 1979, in an entry position at the Public Works Department at the age of 18. By Aug. 2001 he worked his way into a management position in the city’s utilities division.
Two months later, the city began the management retirement plan. But Dobbins’s name wasn’t on the list of eligible employees.
It wasn’t until 2005 that Dobbins was sent a letter by the city asking him if he wanted to transfer into the retirement plan. For reasons that are unclear, it didn’t happen.
In June 2008, then city manager Good informed the city commission that Dobbins would be switched from the General Employees Pension Plan to the management plan, retroactive to the time he should have been included in the plan. Good changed his mind a year later, however, telling commissioners that “due to an oversight” Dobbins wasn’t in the plan.
At the same time, he announced the settlement, saying it was in the best interest of the city.